Fire season: Off to a roaring start

Firefighters use blowers to etch a fire line in the smoky woods near Midnight Lane in Woodville Monday afternoon. Photo by Roger L. Foster.

Two days of high winds and low humidity greeted the state Department of Forestry’s official start of “fire season” with: fires.

Everywhere, it seemed. Preliminary estimates put Monday and Tuesday’s acreage burned at around 100 acres.

Sunday and Monday, major brush fires were fought in Page, Madison, Fauquier and Culpeper counties, while crews from all of Rappahannock’s fire and rescue squads spent most of Monday afternoon containing a wildfire near Midnight Lane in Woodville, plus two smaller fires caused by downed power lines in the Castleton area. The Woodville fire covered 15 to 20 acres, DOF forester Joseph D. Rossetti estimated.

Though Monday’s winds — gusting up to 40 mph — had calmed by Tuesday morning, crews were called out again Tuesday afternoon when the morning’s calm air suddenly changed directions and increased to 15 to 20 mph from the northwest.

Within 30 minutes, what had apparently been a small controlled burn near Bruce and Susan Jones’ house on Long Mountain Road had spread to dry grass fields to the south. Rossetti, who was still at the scene Wednesday as DOF bulldozers took down a few smoldering trees, estimated the fire blackened 60 to 70 acres, most of it on the Jones’ side of Tiger Valley Road.

The damage, as seen from Tiger Valley Road, to some of the 60-plus acres along Long Mountain Road. Photo by Roger L. Foster.

Before brush units and tankers had arrived, “I saw Bruce down there trying to do what he could with his tractor,” said county emergency services coordinator Richie Burke, also chief of the Sperryville Volunteer Fire Company. It was one of the hottest brush fires I’d seen, and my unit was parked on Long Mountain and I ran up to move it because I was afraid that in a few minutes it wasn’t going to be there any more.”

Jones said he was seeing a doctor Wednesday for minor burns around his eyes and face.

“You have to respect nature,” he said. “Nature is there to show you that she’ll start the wind blowing in any direction she wants, whenever she wants.”

Rossetti said he doubted 100 acres were lost in Rappahannock County during all of last year’s fire season — the period defined by DOF between Feb. 15, when daytime burning is prohibited, and April 15, when green — moisture, that is — has returned to the ground and tree canopy.

“Frankly, I’m worried about Friday,” Burke said Wednesday. “It’s supposed to be 70 degrees, still dry and breezy. We have lots of folks coming out here just for the weekend — and, really, any small fire in those conditions, with the ground as dry and uncompressed as it is, can spread into an uncontrolled fire before you know it.”

The Long Mountain brush fire at its height. Photo by Richie Burke.

He strongly urged anyone thinking of burning anything outdoors this weekend — “even a few pieces of paper” — to wait until the region gets some rain or snow.

At one point Tuesday, Burke said, there were crews from 14 squads fighting the fire at Tiger Valley and Long Mountain — including all of Rappahannock’s squads, four from Culpeper, two bulldozers from DOF, a crew from Page County and two firefighting units from Shenandoah National Park.

Meanwhile, crews from Warren County had filled in at Flint Hill and Fauquier’s Orleans company staffed the fire hall at Amissville for a while, Burke said.

Toward the end of Tuesday’s burn, he said, a call came in that one of Monday’s fires in Castleton was trying to rekindle itself — something Rossetti pointed out wildfires will do up to a month after the initial burn.

“I released the Castleton crew from Tiger Valley,” Burke said.

It was on their way home.

Roger L. Foster contributed to this report.

Roger Piantadosi
About Roger Piantadosi 539 Articles

Former Rappahannock News editor Roger Piantadosi is a writer and works on web and video projects for Rappahannock Media and his own Synergist Media company. Before joining the News in 2009, he was a staff writer, editor and web developer at The Washington Post for almost 30 years.