Leesburg, VA, USA — Ten to 15 forest fires occur in Clarke County each year, some destroying homes and all disrupting the natural existence of woodland plants and animals. On Aug. 30, about 24 Loudoun County science teachers examined and compared two Clarke County fire sites during a fire ecology workshop offered by the Virginia Department of Forestry and American Forest Foundation.
“What we were looking for was how fire affects the ecosystem,” said Lisa Deaton, state coordinator for Project Learning Tree, an American Forest Foundation program. “Hopefully [the teachers] experienced the excitement of observing science concepts in the natural environment, which will encourage them to take their own students outdoors for scienceinvestigations.”
“The neatest thing was being out in the field and seeing how nature recovers from fire,” he said. “I thought fire devastates an area, but 10 years later, it’s hard to tell that a fire was even there. It’s really neat seeing how nature works. From an ecological standpoint, I try to see how it applies to my classroom.”
The group’s first stop was the Shenandoah Retreat, where a 105-acre fire this past spring destroyed most of the small vegetation.
“It killed things that might be an inch in diameter,” said Deaton. “We were able to see how hardwood trees could survive a fire.”
Next, the group toured the 350-acre Frogtown fire of 1996, which had a higher level of damage.
“There is quite a lot of vegetation [at the Frogtown fire] now,” said Gerald Crowell, area forester for the Clarke County Virginia Department of Forestry, who also spoke at the workshop. “Ten years have passed and Mother Nature doesn’t like a bare spot. Plus, the fire was hot enough to burn a lot of trees, which opened up sunlight.”
Like most fires, both the Shenandoah Retreat and Frogtown fires were started by humans.
“That was arson,” said Crowell, referring to the Frogtown fire. “It was one of three set at the same time within a one-mile stretch of the road. The Fire Department put out the first two, but weren’t aware of this one.” The arsonist was not found.
The fire at the Shenandoah Retreat is now known to be man-caused, but remains under investigation.
“The No. 1 cause of forest fires in Virginia is debris burning,” Crowell said. “The No. 2 and 3 causes are kids playing with matches and arson.”
The Loudoun teachers also learned how to create a fire-safe home. “If they have a home in the woods, they are subject to having it damaged or destroyed by forest fires,” said Crowell. “On the other hand, don’t be paranoid that you will have a fire. We have fires every year in Clarke County, but very rarely will we get a fire as big as these two.”