Campfires, cigarette smoking and off-road vehicles were banned in Allegany County's Green Ridge State Forest yesterday, where firefighters battled two forest fires as tinderbox conditions set the stage for more.
The Maryland Emergency Management Agency has banned open burning throughout Allegany and Garrett counties because of the rising danger of forest fires.
"The woods from the lower Shore to Garrett County are extremely dry," said Deputy State Fire Marshal Robert B. Thomas Jr.
"We have really not seen any measureable amounts of rainfall throughout Maryland in over six weeks, and in Western Maryland for longer than that," he said. "If a brush fire or a wildland fire develops in the western counties, it could grow in magnitude very quickly and . . . spread very rapidly."
Arson is suspected in two adjoining forest fires that have burned more than 100 acres in the Green Ridge State Forest in Allegany County.
Barbara J. Stevens, a spokeswoman for the DNR's forestry division, said the fires broke out at 2:15 a.m. yesterday. They had been contained by 9 a.m. but continued to burn today within a controlled perimeter.
Eighteen firefighters were working the blazes, she said. No injuries were reported.
Harold McDonald Jr., the incident commander, said today, "The situation is looking exceptionally good." The DNR was investigating the cause of the fires.
The first fire burned 62 acres on the east side of East Valley Road. The second blackened 40 acres on the west side of the road.
The section includes primitive campsites and is heavily forested with 50-year-old hardwoods.
Because of the fires, Green Ridge State Forest officials yesterday closed 12 roads in the park "until the fire is considered safe enough for public access," Stevens said.
Until further notice, the state forest has also banned firewood cutting, off-road and all-terrain vehicles, all open-air burning, charcoal burning and cigarette smoking. All handicap-access hunting roads also have been temporarily closed, and camping has been curtailed.
Overflow camping has been directed to Rocky Gap State Park, which is offering half-price fees. For further information call the park at 301-777-2345.
The two fires followed two other major fires and a host of minor brush fires that broke out over the weekend in Allegany and Frederick counties.
A 242-acre blaze started by cigarettes at Green Ridge State Forest was contained, but continued to burn yesterday.
Another fire was extinguished Wednesday after burning 35 acres at Cunningham Falls State State Park in Frederick County.
The fires in Western Maryland have been accelerated by high winds, a lack of rainfall and dead timber killed by gypsy moths.
The drought has left some reservoirs in the George's Creek watershed -- between Frostburg and Westernport -- dry, and others with as little as an eight-day supply.
Gov. William Donald Schaefer two weeks ago ordered five National Guard water trucks into the area to provide supplemental supplies.
New wells are being drilled and older ones are being refurbished to augment water resources for the towns of Lonaconing and Barton.
Rob Gould, a spokesman for the Emergency Management Agency, said officials in the area fear that a major brush or forest fire would seriously deplete what water resources are available.