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Wildfire claims 30 acres of woods in Hedgesville

March 09, 2009|By DAVE McMILLION

HEDGESVILLE, W.Va. -- Fire scorched about 30 acres of woods in a steep terrain off Allensville Road on Monday afternoon and night in what a state Division of Forestry official said was one of the worst woods fires in recent history in the Eastern Panhandle.

The fire broke out along Rejoice Lane, which is near the North Mountain Landfill north of Hedgesville.

Fire crews were called to the fire at 1 p.m. and were on the scene until 9:30 p.m.

It was too early to say Monday night what caused the fire, said Jim Guerrin, a wild land fire control expert with the state Division of Forestry. "There's many possible causes," said Guerrin, adding that a team with his department was planning to return to the site Tuesday to continue an investigation.

It is possible the fire might have been caused when a local property owner was burning debris outdoors Sunday evening, said Herb Peddicord, spokesman for the state Division of Forestry.

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The property owner, who lived at a house off Allensville Road below the fire scene, thought he had fully extinguished his fire, Peddicord said.

But because of the size of the woods fire, Peddicord said his department would investigate the fire thoroughly to determine what started it.

It looked like the fire burned 25 to 30 acres but forestry officials will make an exact determination Tuesday, Guerrin said.

Flames spread up a steep hillside along the gravel lane and more than 100 firefighters and other volunteers used brush trucks, tanker trucks and a bulldozer to fight the fire, said Assistant State Fire Marshal Patrick Barker.

The bulldozer was brought to the scene from the landfill and was used to create a fire break, Barker said. Water lines from the tanker trucks were then laid into the woods, Barker said. The brush trucks were pickups that had smaller water tanks.

The flames were fanned by winds that gusted to nearly 50 mph Monday in the region. Firefighters were cutting up burning trees with chain saws and dousing them with water to make sure the windy conditions did not cause the fire to rekindle, Barker said.

"It's a lot to take on, especially with the terrain," Barker said.

About 30 fire departments responded to the fire, including crews from Halfway, Funkstown and Williamsport in Washington County. All fire departments in Berkeley and Jefferson counties responded, and some units from Loudoun County, Va., also helped, officials said.

A helicopter flew over the site so fire officials could get an idea of how large the blaze was, Barker said.

Peddicord said he has only seen one other fire as large as Monday's blaze in the Eastern Panhandle in the last six years.

Windy conditions and the sun's rays are drying out wooded areas, Peddicord said, adding that there is a chance that more such blazes could occur if the region does not get rain soon.

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