County woods fire largest of the year

Posted: April 15, 2014

The Winchester Star

Some logs smolder Monday morning in a 32-acre area of northern Frederick County where a large woods fire spread Sunday from a burn pile. (Photo by Ginger Perry/The Winchester Star)

GORE — A 32-acre woods fire that spread Sunday from a Friday night burn pile is the biggest this year, according to officials.

“The fire was traveling extremely fast, it pretty much did what it wanted to for a couple of hours,” said Gerald Crowell, area forester with the U.S. Department of Forestry for Frederick and Clarke counties.

Of course it didn’t help that it was about 78 degrees outside with winds exceeding 20 mph and low humidity at about 3:45 p.m. when the call came in for a fire at 775 Pack Horse Road in Frederick County.

Crowell said Monday morning that it took about three hours to get the blaze under control and that a forestry crew stayed at the scene all night to keep an eye on things.

He said the fire destroyed about 32 acres of woods, an abandoned house trailer and an outbuilding next to it. Later in the day, it rekindled and spread another three-quarters of an acre.

“That’s the biggest one we’ve had this year,” Crowell said, adding that most woods fires are about five or six acres and can be put out fairly quickly.

Seventeen fire crews from Frederick and Clarke counties and West Virginia responded to Sunday’s fire. Crowell said extinguishing the blaze took about 70 to 75 firefighters and 500 man-hours — a conservative guess, he added.

“The volunteers in this area are simply amazing,” he continued, talking up the men and women who worked the fire.

Crews used a bulldozer to create a break around the large blaze to stop it from spreading.

He said they started from behind a residence, went up to the top of a ridge and around Smoky Shire Lane.

Crowell said this year has been an anomaly for the fire season. There have been 25 fires reported in Frederick County and three or four in Clarke — which is about half the usual number.

He described fire season as typically beginning in January and running through about April 30, and said the area typically sees about 50 to 60 wildfires.

Feb. 15 through April 30 is the most dangerous time of year to burn, Crowell added, saying that controlled burns are the No. 1 cause for wildfires in Virginia.

Hence the 4 p.m. burn law, which only allows controlled burns in the area from 4 p.m. to midnight during those months.

“Even when you burn after 4 p.m., it could be legal, but it might not be safe,” Crowell warned.

A controlled burn Friday night on Pack Horse Road is what started Sunday’s woods fire.

Crowell said the person who started the fire thought it was out, but it rekindled Sunday without his knowledge. He tried to put it out, but it was too fast-moving and he ended up having to call 911.

Crowell warned residents to keep an eye on their burn piles and to be aware of the weather conditions.

He said even when it rains or snows, woods and fields dry out very quickly.

“If it’s hot and extremely windy, go check the [controlled] burn area,” Crowell advised.



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