USA CHURCH HILL Seven firefighters trapped in a forest fire near Laurel Run Park declared Mayday Tuesday evening, prompting additional fire and rescue agencies from Hawkins and Sullivan counties to join the rescue effort.
Hawkins County Emergency Management Agency Director Gary Murrell told the Times-News Tuesday night that all seven firefighters had been accounted for, although there were at least two injuries, including one civilian.
The fire was initially reported about 6:30 p.m. on the south side of Bays Mountain above Mountain View Road directly opposite Laurel Run Park, which is on the north side of the mountain.
The civilian who lives off of Mountain View Road reportedly went to see what was happening after the fire started, fell, and had to be carried off the mountain by rescuers.
Murrell said the civilian was unconscious when he was transported to the hospital.
A state Forestry Division worker also suffered a shoulder injury.
There was no information available about how the trapped firefighters were rescued, although Murrell said all were accounted for, and none were injured other than the Forestry Division member.
The fire got between the firemen and a bluff, and there was nowhere to go, Murrell said. They declared a Mayday and when that happens theres a certain protocol our dispatch follows. That means send everything youve got that way.
Murrell noted that the protocol for a Mayday is for at least two additional departments to respond, as well as one ambulance for every trapped person and a helicopter.
The initial departments to respond were Goshen Valley, Carters Valley, Forestry. Then they called in Hawkins EMS, Church Hill Rescue Squad and the EMA. When they declared the Mayday, it just opened it up for everybody. I know Bloomingdale came, and they paged Sullivan West and Fall Branch, and Sullivan County also sent ambulances and a helicopter.
As of 10 p.m., the fire wasnt contained, but firefighters had called off attempts to battle the blaze for the night due to safety concerns.
They were, however, checking nearby residences and cutting fire lines where necessary.
The concern was that the fire could burn down the north side of the mountain and threaten Lauurel Run Park, or move east and threaten the Holston Army Ammunition Plant.
Efforts to contain the fire are expected to begin at daybreak Wednesday.
Government has urged Malawi Defence Force (MDF) soldiers who are deployed to guard Viphya Plantation against destruction to be vigilant by dealing with the perpetrators accordingly.
Msaka (left) walking in the plantantion
Minister of Mines, Energy and Natural Resources, Bright Msaka, made the statement Tuesday after touring the plantation, especially areas under the jurisdiction of Total Land Care and Raiply Malawi Limited.
Incidences of fire destroying numerous hectares of trees every year have been a never-ending song for the Viphya Plantation for over a decade now. The plantation is shared by two districts of Mzimba andNkhata Bay.
However, the issue has raged on in spite of efforts by government and its stakeholders to plant trees and guard them against destruction. Reports have indicated that more often, the fires that destroy the plantation are deliberately set rather than accidental.
The minister said government is aware that some disgruntled workers and individuals whose licences were cancelled are the ones setting fires in the plantation.
People need to know that this is a national asset, so if the department of forestry has denied somebody a licence for the reasons best known by the department, they are supposed to understand instead of setting fires, he said.
To mitigate the challenge, Msaka said government deployed MDF soldiers in protected forests across the country as a way of scaring people from destroying the plantations.
In spite of the effort, some people are still setting parts of the Viphya Forest on fire, regardless of the size of trees.
We have directed the Malawi Defence Force solders to deal with anyone setting bush fires and operating in the forest without licences and that the law will take its course [against them], he warned.
However, Msaka commended Raiply Malawi Limited and Total Land Care for utilizing the forest sustainably and adding value to the trees from the forest.
In the past, we have been cutting trees or sawing and selling them abroad at a very cheap price. We behaved like a prodigal son who squandered all what his father gave him.
We need to be very careful and be proud of what we inherited so that we can benefit from it and pass on those benefits to the next generation, advised the minister.
Earlier, Chief Executive Officer of Raiply Malawi Limited, Thomas Oomen, cited bush fires and encroachment as major challenges facing his company.
This year alone, we have lost about 526 hectares [of trees] to bush fires, unfortunately, most of these trees are below 15 years old but they are supposed to be harvested at the age of 25. This is dooming our future, said Oomen.
Chikangawa Forest consists of seven plantations comprising 53,000 hectares.
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