The huge woods fire in nearby Pennsylvania shows just how much devastation can take place when a blaze breaks out during early spring. In this case, 900 acres of forest — much of it public game land — became engulfed in flames.
The Wills Mountain fire broke out over the weekend and on Wednesday was contained about 70 percent due to the combined firefighting efforts of volunteers, the Pennsylvania Game Commission and the Bureau of Forestry. The fire command post was set up at the Cumberland Valley Township Volunteer Fire Company in Centerville.
The firefighters’ efforts have been helped by the dropping of more than 42,000 gallons of water on the fire from Saturday through Monday. Contractual air tankers from the Bureau of Forestry dumped the water in 800-gallon drops. The air tankers are contracted during the annual wild fire season by the Bureau of Forestry and are located at tanker bases in Clearfield and Luzerne counties.
Winds gusting up to 35 mph on Wednesday complicated the firefighting effort. A red flag warning was also issued Wednesday by the National Weather Service for Allegany County and much of Maryland, as well as for the eastern panhandle of West Virginia. Such a warning means there will be strong winds, low humidity and warm temperatures, all ingredients for forest fire potential.
Monte Mitchell, state fire supervisor for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, told the Baltimore Sun the state’s spring fire season lasts from February to mid-May and the fall fire season is between September and November. He said 98 percent of brush and woods fires are caused by people, since lightning, the only natural cause, accounts for only 2 percent.
The cause of the Wills Mountain fire is under investigation.
Cecile Stelter, public information officer for the Pennsylvania Bureau of Forestry, urged area residents to be cautious during fire season. “We urge residents to take extra care during outside burning. Spring is the time when we have most of our wildfires,” she said.
Motorists traveling along U.S. Route 220 in the Centerville area also need to use caution. There is a 35-mph speed limit at Centerville. During fire suppression efforts, drivers may encounter smoky conditions and numerous firefighting vehicles.