BUCKHANNON — High winds and dry, fallen leavescreated a recipe for disaster on Thursday, November 11, as several counties across West Virginia fell victim to structure and brush fires throughout the day and into the night—some spanning across several acres.
A brush fire in Upshur County and one that spread from Harrison to Lewis County, had Upshur County first responders very busy throughout the entire afternoon and late into Thursday night. Earlier in the day, local first responders were dispatched to a brush fire 3.5 miles down Kesling Mill Ridge. According to Buckhannon Fire Department Career Firefighter John Brugnoli, what started with a downed power line, quickly turned into a full-on brushfire that consumed over 20 acres.
Over 30 area fire department personnel were reportedly on scene at the Kesling Mill brush fire, including Ellamore Volunteer Fire Department, Washington District Fire Company, and Buckhannon, Junior and Belington Fire Departments, in addition to the WV Division of Forestry, local law enforcement, and Upshur County EMS. Mayor Robbie Skinner even provided his drone to assess the status of the fire from an aerial perspective. The fire reportedly began around 3:30 p.m., and Buckhannon Fire Dept. was on scene first, with Ellamore VFD arriving shortly after being dispatched at 4:30 p.m.
The fire was contained by 6 p.m., according to Ellamore VFD Chief John Wilt; however, it reportedly rekindled around 8 p.m. due to the remaining hot coals and high winds, but was contained once again by 10 p.m.
Also around 6 p.m. Thursday evening, West Milford Volunteer Fire Department was dispatched to a structure fire on White Lane in Jane Lew. The fire is believed to have begun in the homeowner’s shed, which then engulfed their entire home that was later noted be a complete loss. Like the brush fire in Kesling Mill, thehigh winds and dry ground allowed the fire to spread onto the hillside and quickly turned into a massive brush fire, burning a total of 16 acres.
All units from Harrison, Lewis, and Upshur counties were requested to assist. Buckhannon Fire Department, Washington District Fire Company, Warren District VFDand Ellamore VFD were added for tankers and manpower, according to Jane Lew VFD Chief Mitch Oldaker.
“Once a good water supply was established from the apparatus shuttling water from the hydrant at Light Burn Armory, the structure fire was under control quickly,” Oldaker explained. However, they then had to turn their focus to the brush fire that was quickly consuming several acres of woods adjacent to numerous homes.
An all-county alert was requested from several surrounding counties bringing crews from Walkersville and Midway Volunteer Fire Departments, as Buckhannon Fire Dept. was staged at the Jane Lew Fire Departmentcovering any additional calls, but was later assigned to assist with the brush fire that had spread to Ridgeview Estates in Lewis County, according to Oldaker. Gilmer County and Braxton County were also requested for assistance around 9 p.m. for additional manpower.
According to Oldaker, units present on scene included the following: West Milford, Jane Lew, Lost Creek, Jackson’s Mill, Nutter Fort, Weston, Pricetown, Washington District, Warren District, Buckhannon, Ellamore, Spelter, Johnstown, Bridgeport, Gilmer, and Sutton. Those also on scene to provide assistance included the WV Division of Forestry, Lewis and Harrison County EMS, WV State Police, Lewis and Harrison County Sheriff’s Offices, as well as many local citizens.
Oldaker noted that local businesses BHE, 5J Services, Doss Enterprises, Zach’s Towing, and NSJ Energy provided dozers, bobcats and excavators to help place the fire line around the perimeter of the brush fire. After reportedly establishing the fire line and with assistancefrom rain that began around 9:30 p.m., the fire was finally under control after a strenuous 5 hours. Most units left the scene of the fire around 11 p.m. Thursday night. “The rain definitely made a huge impact on getting the fire under control,” he concluded.
There were other fires reported in Marion County, Jarvisville, Bridgeport, Salem, Grafton, Webster County, Normantown in Gilmer County, Doddridge County, and two in Nicholas County—all occurring throughout Thursday, November 11.
Fall fire season began October 1 in West Virginia and is marked by the fall in humidity levels. As hundreds of firefighters worked to extinguish these wildfires yesterday in Upshur and in surrounding counties, they were up against low humidity, a dry forest floor that is easily flammable, and high winds that helped sparks travel quickly. According to the WV Division of Forestry, “Debris burning is the single most common cause of wildfires in West Virginia, averaging more than 35% of all wildfires over the past 10 years.” Please obey burn laws and use extreme caution with any fires at this time.