Brush fire ravages Gloucester

Kim Robins and Quinton Sheppard - Posted on Feb 23, 2011 - 04:36 PM

Photo: Members of the Abingdon Volunteer Fire and Rescue battled large brush fires Saturday in the Browns Bay/Kings Creek areas. Another large brush fire also prompted evacuating homes near Pinetta, and other smaller fires kept firefighters busy throughout the weekend. AVFR Photo

Members of the Abingdon Volunteer Fire and Rescue battled large brush fires Saturday in the Browns Bay/Kings Creek areas. Another large brush fire also prompted evacuating homes near Pinetta, and other smaller fires kept firefighters busy throughout the weekend. AVFR Photo

J.D. Clements, chief of the Gloucester Volunteer Fire and Rescue Department, called Saturday’s brush fire in the northwestern part of county, "the biggest fire disaster we’ve seen in 50 years."

Brush fires fueled by high winds and dry conditions kept firefighters busy in northern and southern parts of Gloucester over the weekend, but the biggest fire by far took place in the Signpine area.

No one was injured as a result of the wind-blown flames, but the fire displaced three families, caused an untold amount of other property damage, and scorched 700 acres.

GVFRD volunteers were called to Starvation Road just after 3 p.m. Saturday to begin a 24-hour brush fire battle, said Gloucester Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Darrell Warren. Warren also serves as deputy coordinator for Gloucester Emergency Services.

Warren said firefighters found several hundred acres burning in the area and high winds rapidly spread the flames. He said the fire ultimately spread across 1,200 to 1,400 acres of land between Starvation Road and Island Road. Warren said the fire damaged homes, garages, sheds, hunting lodges, boats and vehicles.

The fire then spread to an area filled with a mix of medium height to tall standing timber. Clements said it crossed over a 10-12 acre hayfield very quickly and across the street to taller pines. He said the land to the right side of Starvation Road is mainly marshland.

Clements said the fire "played havoc" on the Adams Creek community. It jumped that creek, which is rare for a fire to do. "We had no idea it was capable of doing that," he said.

More than 100 members of Gloucester Fire and Rescue responded to the fire and were assisted by firefighters from Abingdon Fire and Rescue, Yorktown Naval Weapons Station, York, James City County, King and Queen, Mathews, West Point, the U.S. Forestry Department and CERT (Certified Emergency Response Team) volunteers.

"We immediately started calling for aid from other jurisdictions when we realized we couldn’t stop the fire," Clements said. "It was moving so quickly from the treetops and jumping (Starvation) Road. There was no way of slowing it down."

Warren said the GSO called in off-duty personnel to assist with the evacuation of more than 100 residents from about 30 homes in the immediate area. Additional dispatchers were also summoned to help handle the high volume of associated radio traffic.