Officials hope rain helps to quell fires

Brush, woods blazes keep volunteers busy

April 01, 1999|By Mike Farabaugh | Mike Farabaugh,SUN STAFF

State and local fire and forestry officials hope today's anticipated rain will provide respite from a rash of brush and woods fires taxing the endurance of Maryland firefighters.

Volunteers in Carroll County have battled more than 20 brush and woods fires since Monday. That includes assisting with fires in Frederick and Howard counties and southern Pennsylvania.

Alan Zentz, state fire supervisor for the forestry division of the Department of Natural Resources, said yesterday that conditions for wildfires have been optimum since Monday.

A rash of marsh grass fires that burned 410 acres in Dorchester County this year has raised the total acres lost statewide in 1999 to 1,810, more than double the 900 acres consumed during the first three months of 1998, Zentz said.

He said the number of fires has risen only slightly -- from 147 in 1998 to 152 this year.

As of yesterday evening, 35 mountainous acres continued to burn near Westernport in Allegany County, he said.

"Most of the most recent fires have occurred in Western Maryland and across the northern tier counties, including Washington, Frederick, Carroll and Howard," Zentz said.

Carroll fire officials reported 13 brush and woods fires between 5 a.m. and 6 p.m. yesterday, including a 10-acre blaze that began about 11: 30 a.m. in the Marriottsville area of Howard County on Henryton Road near the Patapsco Valley State Park and raged for four hours.

Brush trucks from Carroll were assisting Howard when the flames jumped the Patapsco River to Carroll County, south of Sykesville.

Howard officials said firefighters there responded to four brush or woods fires within eight miles of one another along the railroad tracks yesterday. Two of those drew nearly every member of the county's fire and rescue units.

One hour after the Henryton Road fire, a second fire spread through 5 acres in Hollifield, near Interstate 70, said Capt. David Carroll of the Howard Department of Fire and Rescue Services. Firefighters were trying to contain it last evening.

Soon after the Hollifield fire, officials responded to another Marriottsville fire, this time near Driver Road, but fire personnel were able to contain it quickly.

"We already had people out there, so we were able to get there quickly," Carroll said.

Officials have not determined the cause of the fires, Carroll said.

Howard County usually has about five brush fires a week at this time of year, he said.

Statewide, Zentz said the forestry division responded to 21 brush and woods fires Tuesday. He noted that DNR responds only when state or local fire officials request assistance.

DNR's Will Williams, who is based in St. Mary's County, said the surge in brush and woods fires is expected in March and April, called Maryland's "spring fire season."

Williams noted many children are on spring break and are more likely to hike in wooded areas and play with matches.

"Kids are a contributing factor, but 95 percent of all fires in Maryland are caused by [adults]," he said. "This time of year, the weather warms, and people are out burning yard debris accumulated over the winter. A small fire suddenly gets away and spreads quickly."

Brush and leaves on the ground are dry after a mild winter, and that, plus low humidity and breezes, makes for prime burning conditions, Williams said.

By the first week of May, new leaves will shade the forest floor, keeping the ground cover moist and reducing the number of woodland fires, he said.

Sun staff writer Nancy A. Youssef contributed to this article.

Pub Date: 4/01/99

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