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Harpers Ferry park fire burns 15 acres

October 22, 1998

Harpers Ferry fireBy KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI and JOE CROCETTA / Staff Writers

photo: JOE CROCETTA




HARPERS FERRY - Quick action by more than 40 firefighters helped contain to about 15 acres a fire that broke out late Wednesday afternoon in a mountainous area at Harper's Ferry National Historic Park, according to a forester with the West Virginia Division of Forestry.

"The volunteer companies did a bang-up job of responding and getting the fire under control," said Forester Flint Wolfes.

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Firefighters were called out at about 3:45 p.m. to a fire that started on the east bank of the Shenandoah River near the bridge at U.S. 340, according to Lee Boyd, 1st Lieutenant with Friendship Company No. 1.

A passing motorist had notified Harpers Ferry National Historical Park personnel after spotting the fire, Boyd said.

Workers had the fire contained by around 7:45 p.m. he said.

One firefighter was treated for smoke inhalation at Jefferson Memorial Hospital in Ranson, W.Va., and released, said Boyd.

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The cause of the fire had not been determined, Boyd said.

"To be honest, it was moving too fast for that to be a major concern," he said.

Dry soil and heavy winds caused the blaze to spread quickly, according to Boyd.

"The flames got to be a good 4 feet once the wind got behind it," he said. Thick smoke covered the area for about 90 minutes, he said.

Firebreaks established by firefighters in an attempt to halt the spread of the blaze were unsuccessful, according to Boyd.

To build the firebreaks, workers advanced to within about 4 feet of the fire and dug a ditch intended to control the spread of the fire.

Firefighters eventually contained the blaze by dousing it with water from 2 1/2 inch hoses, officials said.

Firefighters had to drag the hoses to the fire area because the only access was on foot, officials said.

"It took a lot of people and a lot of muscle to drive that hose up there through the ravine and ridges," Boyd said.

Boyd said it had been a week and a half since the last substantial rainfall in the area and large amounts of dead leaves created an ideal condition for such a fire.

A small portion of the area along the Shenandoah River was still burning late Wednesday evening, but Boyd said the spot was inaccessible to firefighters. He said the fire in that spot was expected to burn itself out.

Once the fire was contained, firefighters worked to douse hot spots, he said.

Neither the historic town of Harpers Ferry nor any homes or structures on the park grounds were in danger from the fire, he said.

Boyd said this was the first fire at the park in his eight years with Friendship Fire Co.

He said forest blazes can be beneficial in some cases.

"It burns out the old vegetation and allows new vegetation to grow back thicker and greener," he said.

West Virginia volunteer fire companies responding to the fire included: Blue Ridge Mountain No. 5, Friendship No. 1, Independent No. 4, Citizens No. 2 and Shepherdstown No. 3.

Also helping to fight the blaze were fire companies from Brunswick, Md., and Loudoun County, Va.

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