Strong winds on Saturday gusting up to 50 mph caused problems for firefighters and resulted in hundreds of wildfires in Virginia, Maryland, and North Carolina, as well as several other southern states. Here is an excerpt from today’s Southern Geographic Area’s Morning Briefing:
The Southern Area reported heavy initial attack activity yesterday. There were 375 new fires for 7,336 acres burned on State-protected lands in AL, FL, NC, OK, SC and VA; 12 new fires for 1,021 acres burned on Federal-protected lands in FL, GA, KY, LA, SC, TX and VA. Wilder’s Type 1 Incident Management Team has been mobilized to the Valley Complex in VA comprised of the Coffman, Smith Run and Chestnut Ridge fires.
Maryland, Prince George’s County
We received an email from Dalmation90 who told us:
Prince Georges County just outside of Washington is being absolutely hammered by wind-driven brush fires today. Extensive mutual aid from Northern Virginia through Baltimore (listening to a live scanner, I just heard PG Dispatch assigning a Baltimore City engine to a run…).
All off-duty firefighters were called in to help fight numerous fires, including a three-alarm fire at an industrial mulch plant in Laurel. The winds spread the fire over 100 acres of natural vegetation and 30-foot high mulch piles, forcing the closure of Interstate 95.
The Virginia Department of Emergency Management said on Saturday that there were more than 100 wildfires burning across the state.
The Smith Run fire started in Browntown on Saturday and pushed by 35-40 mph winds, it spread into Shenandoah National Park burning at least 350 acres as of late Saturday. One media report puts it at 800-1,000 acres. Approximately 125 firefighters have been ordered for the fire, some from as far away as Arkansas. Skyline Drive was closed on Saturday. In west-central Virginia, Rockingham County firefighters and the U.S. Forest Service spent much of Saturday battling that fire and the Coffman fire (500 acres), which have been combined into the Valley Complex near Harrisonburg (map). The Southern Region’s “Red” Type 1 Incident Management Team has been assigned. At least six hand crews are assigned to the Valley Complex fires.
(A February 21 update on the fire in Shenandoah NP is HERE.)
In the southwest part of the state efforts to control fires were complicated by winds gusting to over 35 mph and relative humidity readings of less than 10 percent.
In Prince William County one of six fires destroyed at least one home and forced the evacuation of several others. Fires also burned near the Fairfax courthouse and the Northern Virginai Community College’s campus.
The state Division of Forest Resources said that as of 8 p.m. on Saturday, 183 fires which had burned 500 acres had been controlled across the state, but that 39 fires involving over 4,000 acres were still uncontrolled. Most of those were in Warren and Pender Counties.
A fire in Raleigh burned portions of a golf course and damaged three houses, melting their vinyl siding. According to ABC 11:
One fire engine actually had to be evacuated at one point, because the fire got too close.
Here is a video report from ABC 11 in Raleigh, North Carolina:
District of Columbia
The winds toppled the National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse near the White House. The Colorado blue spruce which was planted in 1978 met the same fate as two previous National Christmas Trees. The Washington Post said:
But there would be little time for mourning; the tree was mulched Saturday afternoon.
Those National Park Service Maintenance employees in the National Capitol Region were right on top of things, as usual. In fact, the NPS has already selected a successor tree which it will identify this spring when it is brought to the Ellipse.
Here is a video showing the downed tree and the NPS workers mulching it within minutes or hours of its demise.