Virginia: St. Mary’s fire

The St. Mary’s fire on the George Washington National Forest has grown to 4,060 acres. (UPDATE March 30; 4,505 acres) It’s interesting the way the media describes the aerial ignition operation.

From The News Virginian, an excerpt:”Instead of rain, a helicopter dropped a hailstorm of ping-pong-ball-sized balls of a chemical that, with a delayed reaction of about 10 seconds, started a potent fire – on the east and west slopes of the ridge leading to Route 56. It’s known as a backfire operation, McPhereson said, and it worked to contain the fire.

Helitorch photo by Bill Gabbert

At the same time that was happening, most of the 121 people involved, from federal and state agencies to local volunteers, were out burning terrain along the road leading away from the bulldozer line, according to Charlie Rudacille, normally with Shenandoah National Park but one of those assisting in controlling the fire.

The helicopter chemical drops, he said, would help prevent big runs with the fires and would lessen their intensity.

In the half-hour it took for the helicopter to drop the many thousands of chemical balls and make its way around both sides of the ridge, visibility was reduced to near-zero as heavy, dark-brown smoke filled the sky and bright orange flames dotted the slopes.

“If it all goes well, in an hour it’ll be boring,” Rudacille said while the helicopter was in the air.

The gusting, 15 to 20 mph winds – blowing the fire northeast, away from the west slope – was a blessing to the firefighters, as were the dry, overcast conditions. But Rudacille was aware of forecasts calling for a chance of thunderstorms later in the day.

“The thunderstorm, and the erratic winds associated with the thunderstorm, would be a problem,” Rudacille said.”

InciWeb has more details.

Virginia Has Already Spent Their Fire Suppression Funds for the Year

Due to fire activity much busier than usual, the Virginia Department of Forestry has already spent their budgeted wildland fire suppression funds for the year. They intend to ask the Governor’s office for more.

From the Richmond Times Dispatch:


“Entering the second week of the spring fire season, the Virginia Department of Forestry already has spent its entire 2008 funds for firefighting.

Preliminary estimates indicate that the outbreak of wildfires across the state two weeks ago that led Gov. Timothy M. Kaine to declare a state of emergency may have cost the department about $500,000, spokesman John Campbell said.

That’s the agency’s budget for firefighting for the entire year, Campbell said. “We are thinking we are tapped out . . . and we are just beginning the year.”

The estimate includes expenses such as overtime payments and gasoline, as well as the use of helicopters and other heavy equipment. It doesn’t include the localities’ expenses, he said.

The National Guard, which was sent to help several counties, may have spent an additional $175,000, Campbell said.

Across the state, officials are still trying to calculate the financial losses from the 348 wildfires two weeks ago.

The fires, fueled by high winds, were caused mostly by downed trees that hit electrical wires. The fires consumed nearly 16,000 acres, about 4,000 more acres than burned in all of 2007, forestry officials said.”


Fires in Virginia, North and South Carolina

Lake Carolina fire
Lake Carolina in Richland County, VA, from

Strong winds up to 50 and 60 mph caused problems for firefighters in Virginia and North Carolina.

Virginia, from

Beyond southeast Virginia, dozens of brush fires burned across the commonwealth and some were still burning Sunday night.

Local authorities declared emergencies in Bedford, Roanoke, Caroline, Orange, Dinwiddie, Lunenburg, Nelson and King George counties.

Shelters were opened in Roanoke and in the counties of Bedford, Hanover and Nelson for evacuees from residential areas threatened by brush fires.

Brush fires and downed power lines have closed parts of several major roads: I-81 north of Roanoke; U.S. 460 in Botetourt County; I-95 in Hanover County; U.S. 60 in New Kent County.

Carolinas, from Foxnews/Associated Press:

CONWAY, S.C. — Wind-whipped wildfires chased churchgoers from worship, forced hundreds of residents to flee homes and closed highways across the rain-starved Carolinas and Virginia on Sunday.

Twelve small structures, including at least one business and an unknown number of homes and sheds, were damaged by a blaze near the South Carolina coast; no injuries were reported, authorities said.

About 60 homes were briefly evacuated Sunday afternoon as the fire sent smoke billowing above this city of about 11,000 people about 15 miles northwest of Myrtle Beach.

“The flames were at the top of the trees and I could feel the heat,” said Lewis Cooper, 37, who fled the fire.

In North Carolina, winds gusting up to 60 mph in some areas toppled trees and power lines and also fanned brush fires.