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DNR official fights Florida fires

July 12, 1998|By MARLO BARNHART

As regional fire manager for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Ric Lillard is used to dealing with the occasional fire that crops up in the four western counties.

But after two weeks battling the Florida brush fires, the Clear Spring resident said he was amazed at the devastation of such widespread fires.

Dillard and 18 other DNR employees comprised a task force that left Maryland June 23 for Volusia County, Fla. They got back two days ago.

"I was the leader of a strike team ... seven people, four brush engines and three bulldozers from Maryland," Dillard said. "We drove 17 hours straight to get down there as quickly as possible."

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Often working at night to avoid the heat of the day, Dillard said the Florida humidity was incredible, even after the sun had gone down.

"One of our jobs was to build fire breaks around a housing development in Volusia County," Lillard said. There was fire approaching the homes from several of the wildfires in the area.

Fire breaks are usually mounds of dirt and other noncombustible materials that stop a fire by depriving it of needed fuel.

The residents constantly brought water and ice to the workers as their way of showing appreciation for their efforts to save their homes.

"Often we were working with one hand and holding a glass of water with the other," he said. "The need for water to drink was constant."

Lillard said the fires did reach the fire breaks but he was happy to say they got no further and the homes were spared.

"They're not out of the woods yet in most parts of Florida, but they did get some rain just before we left there," Lillard said.

While in Florida, Lillard and his fellow DNR workers were paid their regular salaries. In Florida, their needs were met by Florida officials who were just glad to have the extra help.

On Friday, Lillard was glad to be back in his office in Green Ridge State Forest in Allegany County, where he oversees a staff of 20 and the forest fire program in Garrett, Allegany, Washington and Frederick counties.

It is certainly a lot cooler here, he said.

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