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Indian Springs forest fire contained, but firefighters to remain Monday

November 25, 2012|By JULIE E. GREENE | julieg@herald-mail.com

CLEAR SPRING — Maryland Department of Natural Resources firefighters are expected to spend all day Monday at the scene of an ongoing forest fire in the Indian Springs Wildlife Management Area, the third day of the fire that reached an estimated 100 acres at the point of containment Sunday afternoon, Maryland Department of Natural Resources officials said.

“It will continue to smoke all day” Monday, said Ric Lillard, regional fire manager with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources’ Forest Service.

The Hickory Ridge fire was reported to be contained around 4:30 p.m. Sunday, according to an email from Maryland Department of Natural Resources spokesman Josh Davidsburg.

There was a minor break in the fire line reported shortly later, but firefighters utilized bulldozers that were used to build the fire line, turning earth over in a line around the fire, Lillard said.

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The fire was not near any homes or populated areas, Lillard said.

No firefighters had been injured as of late Sunday afternoon, Clear Spring Fire Chief Michael Reid said.

The fire is between Catholic Church Road and Hearthstone Mountain, where AT&T has an underground communications facility, Reid said.

This area of the Indian Springs Wildlife Management Area is known as Hickory Ridge, Lillard said. The area, and most of the wildlife management area, is between Clear Spring and Hancock, north of U.S. 40, and south of the Pennsylvania state line.

In addition to seven local firefighters, there were six trained wild land firefighters from the Forest Service, and two trained wild land firefighters from the Wildlife and Heritage Service assisting on the fire, Clear Spring fire and DNR officials said.

Before leaving the area Sunday night, firefighters were to check to make sure there were no dead trees inside the fire line perimeter that could catch fire and fall over the line, Lillard said.

Some of the flames, from leaf litter alone, had reached as high as 6 feet when it was windy Saturday night, Lillard said. Typically, leaf litter flames reach 2 to 3 feet in height, he said.

While Clear Spring firefighters are not expected to return to the fire site Monday, DNR firefighters are expected to be at the fire site all day.

They will make sure the fire doesn’t cross the line and will take care of dead trees near the fire line so the trees don’t fall and spread the fire, Lillard said.

Reid said the contained fire will be left to burn itself out.

“Something that big you don’t put out,” Reid said.

Access to the fire was the biggest challenge early on as some firefighters walked into the rugged, mountainous terrain for 90 minutes to 2 hours on Saturday and still hadn’t reached the fire, Reid said.

“We really only got one crew into it yesterday because it was a matter of walking,” Reid said Sunday morning.

After DNR had a Maryland State Police helicopter fly over the site, it was determined Saturday night the fire was not in danger of reaching any houses or populated areas so crews were pulled out for the night, officials said.

Some firefighters had trouble finding their way out in the dark Saturday night, Reid said. They were not in danger from the fire, but they got sidetracked as it was dark and the terrain is rugged, he said.

A Washington County 911 supervisor said some state forestry workers spent Saturday night near the fire scene to monitor the situation.

On Sunday morning, firefighters and Forest Service officials used a bulldozer to clear fallen trees from an previously existing access road so they could get to the fire, Lillard said.

DNR officials will investigate the cause of the fire, which was not known Sunday.

The wildlife management area is used by hikers and hunters. Saturday was the opening day of deer season for hunters using firearms, Lillard said.

DNR usually prepares for fires on opening day as there are usually more fires on opening day, Lillard said. Some fires have been caused in the past by hunters who were smoking or who built warming fires that later got out of control, Lillard said.

Washington County Emergency Services received numerous calls Saturday afternoon from people on both sides of the mountain who could see smoke, a 911 supervisor said.

The initial call for the fire came in at 12:53 p.m. Saturday, the 911 supervisor said. Calls were received from Funkhouser Road, Indian Springs Road and Orchard Ridge Road areas as people reported seeing smoke, he said.

Firefighters from Washington County; Franklin and Fulton counties in Pennsylvania; and Morgan County in West Virginia; responded to the fire call on Saturday, the 911 supervisor said.

Area resident Jason Reed said he was unloading feed around 12:50 p.m. Saturday when he saw the smoke and reported it via a nonemergency phone line.

Reed said he wasn’t concerned for his property.

“There’s a whole lot of stuff between me and the fire,” he said.

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