The area got its first rainfall in more than a month Tuesday night but that wasn’t enough to lift Jefferson County’s burn ban as restrictions remain in place due to extremely dry conditions still creating fire dangers.
“We’re not going to lift it yet,” said Jefferson County Emergency Management Director Troy Morgan. “We just got four-tenths of an inch of rain Tuesday evening and that’s not near enough to make up for a drought like we’ve had.”
Local firefighters know well the dangers of the current dry conditions. They have been fighting fires in a Jefferson County woods most of this week in the 9000 block of West State Road 356 close to the Scott County line. The blaze was discovered Monday and firefighters were still putting out hot spots and flareups Wednesday, even after Tuesday’s rain.
Hanover Fire Chief Ron Kroger said the fire has impacted a total of 16 to 18 acres of woods. He said Lexington Volunteer Fire Department was called out around 9:30 a.m. Monday and witnessed a haze but wasn’t able to find the fire only to be called once when fire became more evident. Kent Fire Chief Brett Roberts said the Lexington fire department was called back still again, an hour before Kent Volunteer Fire Department responded at 2 p.m. Later, it was determined the fire was actually under the jurisdiction of the Hanover Township Volunteer Fire Department which also arrived on the scene to help fight the fire.
Kroger noted fire company territory lines are in close proximity in that area, and the wooded area was south of the State Road 356 in Saluda Township.
Roberts said it has been a challenge dealing with wooded area. The firefighters battled in the area from Monday afternoon to 9 p.m. when it became too unsafe to see above them due to the darkness. Fire lines had been established but the fire jumped over that, and firefighters were back on the scene at 7 a.m. Tuesday and continued to fight the blaze throughout the day.
Hanover was back at the woods Wednesday morning because of a tree that was on fire. Kroger noted that even after fires are put out there can be fire smoldering inside the trees that later rekindles into open flames. With so many trees in the woods, it’s difficult for the fire department to identify which trees are smoldering or to address them all. “We cut a lot down but we can’t get them all,” said Kroger.
In addition to the woods, Kroger said there was a junkyard in the woods with a variety of items including tires, automotive lubricants and more.
He thinks the property has an absentee landowner who died and possibly another person has been squatting at the site and living off the land and “trashed it all up.” Kroger speculated that the fire may have started from that person burning a campfire in the woods but so far they have not been able to make contact with the suspect who they think has been living on the property. “It’s not the first time” the fire department has been called out to those woods, Kroger said.
Kroger noted that wildland firefighters from Big Oaks National Wildlife Refuge were called to the scene because of their experience in fighting fires in the woods, and they have been a big help. Also assisting were Johnson Township and Vienna Township fire companies from Scott County, Deputy Volunteer Fire Department from Jefferson County and New Washington and Monroe Township fire companies from Clark County.
On Monday, a fire that originated from burning garbage the night resulted in a more dangerous fire when wind blew embers onto the grass and then a large wood pile at Turkey Branch Road near the intersection of China/Manville Road.
Madison Township Fire Chief Robert Black said the burning wood pile was about 15 to 20 feet from a shed and 50 feet away from a house, which he noted could have become even more dangerous and caused more damage if it had continued to spread. The fire, reported at 2:50 p.m., took about two hours to put out by Madison Township and Ryker’s Ridge fire departments.
Black noted that with the current drought conditions in Jefferson County, there is a ban on burning and “it’s not something to take lightly” because in those conditions fires can be severe and create serious damage.
Morgan said late Wednesday morning that the National Weather Service is forecasting more rain in Jefferson County on Sunday but an amount only expected to be similar to Tuesday’s rainfall. “It’s still very dry. We’re going to need a lot more rain a lot longer” in order to end the burn ban, he said, noting he’s aware that the burn ban is an inconvenience but it’s necessary for the “greater good ... We have had firefighters out 14 to 16 hours three days in a row this week.”
Prior to this week’s fires, firefighters were dealing with an even bigger blaze that began on the range at Jefferson Proving Ground at about 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Oct. 19. The fire broke out during standard training on the 50-acre Jefferson Range, located in the center of the Jefferson Proving Ground site, and now involves 500 acres mostly in the area around a Precision Guided Munitions Range located on Jefferson Range.
Helicopter rounds ignited light grasslands and leaves on Jefferson Range as well as a portion of Big Oaks National Wildlife Range (NWR) east of the range within the designated safety fan surrounding the range. Officials determined that the fires were within existing fire breaks and private land is not in jeopardy. Big Oaks NWR firefighters are currently monitoring and controlling the fires.
Wildland Firefighters from Big Oaks NWR conducted a burnout operation on Oct. 20 and will continue such tactics as needed to reinforce fire breaks. Currently the fire is 80% contained and is expected to produce smoke until rain arrives. The areas involved are periodically subject to control burns to reduce fuels and reduce the risk of severe wildfire.
Those previous controlled burns have successfully reduced the severity of the current fires but there are potentially other dangers involved
“I want to caution residents who have respiratory difficulties to stay inside and motorists to be aware of potential visibility hazards while they travel on the local roads,” Refuge Manager Joe Robb stated,
Jefferson Range provides simulated real-world training missions considered critical for military personnel. The nature of the training involves ordnance that can ignite light grassland and leaves. Lt. Col. Ryan Harvey, Jefferson Range, stated that “I want to thank Big Oaks NWR firefighters and my staff for their dedication and professionalism during these operations. I understand the communities concerns, but we are confident these fires are contained.”
In other first responder calls, Madison Township Fire Department was assisted by Ryker’s Ridge Fire Department and Madison Rescue 6 on Saturday to rescue a 60-year-old woman on Trail 2 near Trail 8 at Clifty Falls State Park. The women was hiking when she was unable to proceed, becoming light headed following a light breakfast that morning. A stokes basket was needed to assist her from the trail, but once the rescue was complete, she was able to recover and did not seek further medical attention.