02/12/08 — Dudley fire burns several acres

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Dudley fire burns several acres

By Nick Hiltunen
Published in News on February 12, 2008 1:53 PM

DUDLEY -- The N.C. Division of Forest Resources plow was unavailable, so Mar Mac Fire Chief Bill Harrell was in charge of putting out fire near Durham Lake Road on Monday afternoon.

Usually fires in wooded areas like this three-acre patch littered with automobiles and other industrial pieces and parts would be handled with a "back fire" and a trench.

N.C. Division of Forest Resources employees routinely use heavy machinery to dig the trench down to the "bare mineral" soil, which prevents fire from crossing the hole.

Then, by building a controlled back fire, firefighters give themselves some buffer zone to fight the approaching flames, authorities on scene said.

But the plow tractor used by Wayne County was in Edgecombe County on Monday afternoon, which meant Harrell had to improvise.

Other authorities told him they would like to see him put out the fire, he said.

Harrell responded with a "surround and soak" approach, by which three connected fire engines snaked a heavy-gauge up a sandy trail towards the affected clearing.

After 3 p.m., one engine with a man stationed at a pump on the engine's roof soaked the surrounding machinery with a heavy flow of water, pumping at about 1,000 gallons per minute.

Metal pieces and parts steamed in puddles while some still produced tufts of smoke before Assistant County Ranger Brandon Hill gave the area a final check.

Hill said that the Division of Forest Resources would still dig a trench down to the bare mineral soil beyond the burned area, to ensure that another fire would not start.

Firefighters on scene said the blaze may have started when the caretaker of the property was cutting through vehicle metal and could not contain the resulting fire.

Harrell said he had had the foresight to practice for just such a situation -- the Mar Mac department laid down 5,600 feet of heavy gauge hose one Saturday morning to train, he said.

"People said 'You're crazy,'" when the department practiced that way, Harrell said.

But using the three daisy-chained fire engines was the reason that firefighters were able to get the 1:30 a.m. fire -- more than 1/4-mile off Durham Lake Road -- under control, Harrell said.

"I knew it would work," the fire chief said.