Firefighters battle large wildfire in Lee County

Firefighters battle large wildfire in LeeCounty

8 March 2007

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Richmond, USA — Dry and windy conditions contributed to a number ofwildfires, including one in southwest Virginia that had spread Thursday to morethan 1,000 acres, officials said.

John Campbell, a Virginia Department of Forestry spokesman, said the biggestfire was near Blackwater in Lee County. About 20 firefighters, including about adozen from the federal Job Corps program, were battling the burning buffalograss.

“The grass is six to eight feet tall, very thick and very flammable,”Campbell said in a telephone interview.

He did not know the cause of the fire, which was not threatening any homes orother structures. He said it doesn’t take much to start a fire under currentconditions.

“The ground itself is OK saturation-wise,” Campbell said. “It’sthe leaf litter and so on that’s extremely dry. With the low humidity and wind,you can have explosive fire growth.”

Earlier in the week, Gov. Timothy M. Kaine issued a reminder that a winter burnban took effect Feb. 15 and runs through April 30. Anyone who sets an open-airfire before 4 p.m. within 300 feet of woods or brush can be fined $500.

Elsewhere in southwest Virginia, two wildfires in Scott and Montgomery countieswere brought under control Thursday, according to the U.S. Forest Service inRoanoke. The Montgomery County fire was started by a power line that was brokenby the wind, while the Scott County fire might have been caused by sparks from atrain or by someone walking along the railroad tracks, officials said.

A hotel in Norton was briefly evacuated Wednesday after a fire came within a fewfeet. The blaze was started by sparks from rail-grinding work that was beingdone to smooth Norfolk Southern tracks, Campbell said. He said the fire alsocame close to a house before being doused by firefighters.

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