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By Chief Richard E. Mabie
Warren County Fire & Rescue Dept.
Greetings to our visitors from The Huffington Post.
Extreme fire conditions greeted Warren County Saturday morning, February 19, 2011, with low humidity, low fuel moisture and high winds. Winds for the day were consistently at 35-40 MPH with gusts exceeding 50 MPH causing National Weather Service to issue Red Flag Fire Warnings and High Wind Warnings for most of the western part of the State.
First fire came in at 7:03 AM for a brush fire with downed power lines at 632 Yardbird Lane in Harmony Hollow. Fire units arrived to find several acres burning in the mountainous area near the Four H Center. Units from Stations 1, 9, 2, 3, 8,5 and Department of Forestry worked over 4 hours to bring this fire under control. Total area burned was approximately 2 acres.
At 7:21 AM, fire units were dispatched to 2238 High Top Road for a brush threatening a house. Units from Stations 4, 10, 2, 1 and 5 on scene to find a fast moving woods fire threatening several structures. A very aggressive attack by units confined the fire to 2 acres and no structure damage. Units were on scene for 1 ½ hours.
Third fire of the day was also dispatched as a woods fire threatening several structures at 253 Parkside View Drive in Browntown. Upon arrival, fire units found a fast moving, wind blown fire of about 3 acres. Within minutes this fire was over 10 acres and moving up and into the Shenandoah National Park. The Park Service was called for assistance, as well as additional units for Warren County, including the Forestry Tractor. The fire continued to increase in size at an alarming rate due to high winds and steep terrain of the fire. Local fire and rescue units were assigned to structure and building protection while Forestry Tractors were used to attempt to cut a fire break between the fast moving fire and the private land and structures. Fire and Rescue units were staged at the Browntown Community Center, where the fire command and rehab were located. Several times during the next 8 hours, units and personnel that were deployed had to be pulled back into safe zones due to the speed of the fire spread up the mountain. The fire rapidly spread from private land on Parkside View into the Shenandoah National Park. At about 2:30 PM, the first had crested the Park ridges and had jumped the Skyline Drive. At this point, the fire has slowed but has burned down the east slope of the Park and into Rappahannock County. Park Service firefighters have estimated the total acreage burned at this time at over 2,000 and is predicted to go to 3,000 acres before total extinguishment. This makes this fire one of the largest fires for the northern section in the history of the Park. Units form Station 3, 1, 2, 6, 8, 9, 10, Va. Division of Forestry, Shenandoah National Park, and Luray. This fire is still burning but is mostly on Park land. No structures were lost, nor are they threatened any longer. No injuries have been reported by civilians or fire personnel. Cause of this fire is under investigation by Warren County Fire and Rescue and Division of Forestry. It is believed to be accidental.
While Department resources were fighting this fire, units were dispatched to 142 Lookout Way in Blue Mountain for a residential structure fire. Available units from Stations 4, 1, 5, 6, 8, 9, Department of Forestry, Frederick County 12 arrived to find a single story dwelling fully involved with fire spreading along and into the woods. Many other homes were being threatened by this fast moving forest fire as well. Since the original fire building was collapsing, units were assigned to protect adjacent homes and those in the path of the woods fire. Many residences were evacuated by the speed and path of the fire. Shelters were set up at Fire Station 4 and Skyline High School. Approximately 40 people were evacuated form their homes. They were allowed to return around midnight. Firefighters remained in the area all night to monitor the hot spots. Units left the scene around mid day on Sunday. One firefighter was transported to Warren Memorial Hospital for smoke inhalation and fatigue. Loss is estimated at $140,000 and the cause is under investigation by Warren County Fire and Rescue.
During these fires, all stations were depleted and being utilized. While there were several other woods and grass fires in the county during these times, resources from Frederick and Shenandoah Counties were deployed to fill County Stations.
County firefighters were greatly assisted by business and citizen donations of food and refreshments and both major fires. Browntown Community Center, while serving as the Command Post for the Park fire, also served firefighters who worked all night at this fire. Warren County Sheriff’s office assisted with both fires by crowd control and emergency evacuations for the Blue Mountain fire.
Since both of these major fires are under investigation and the Browntown fire is still currently ongoing, another press release will be forthcoming on Monday by the Fire and Rescue Department.