Thu07242014

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Three fire calls on the same block kept crews busy

A series of three fires that burned on Gambo Creek Road off Owens Drive in Dahlgren have investigators looking for a cause.  

The first 911 call for a fire was received at 8:56pm on Thursday, August 9.  According to Captain Steven T. Lynd, Deputy Emergency Management Coordinator for the King George County Department of Fire, Rescue and Emergency Services, the first of eight fire units arrived at 9:08pm and found that a wooded area behind several homes was burning. 

According to Lynd, no structures were endangered and there were no injuries.  Firefighters cleared the scene at 10:39pm.

At 2:43pm on August 16, Matthew Bumbry, 82 and his wife Lena, 77 called 911 when they noticed heavy smoke and an intense smell of fire coming from the wooded area behind their home at 17163 Gambo Creek Road.  Matthew Bumbry said that he had walked to the area behind his home to look for the cause of the smoke and noticed flames as tall as two feet.

At 2:58pm, approximately 30 career and volunteer firefighters on 14 various fire and EMS vehicles—agencies from King George County, Dahlgren Navy Base, Westmoreland County, and Charles County, MD—responded as well as the Virginia Department of Forestry responded to the call that lasted into the evening with the final unit leaving at 8:28pm.  

Captain Dan Dixon, the incident commander on the scene said that despite the heat none of the emergency responders suffered any heat related emergencies. Virginia Department of Forestry officials brought in a bulldozer to knock down trees and brush and cut a semi-circle pathway through the woods behind the Bumbry’s house in order to provide firefighters access to rake down and douse the fire and remaining hotspots with water.  

“The forestry bulldozer arrived on scene about 4:30[pm], and we completed construction of the fire line at about 7:00[pm],” Karen Snape, Forester for the Department of Forestry said.  “Of course, the fire department had been dragging hoses into the woods and extinguishing the fire before the dozer arrived, but it was around 7 that they were able to drive the brush trucks around and wet things down more efficiently.”

Lynd said that firefighters did not have to wait for the bulldozer in order to attack the fire. In a statement to the media Lynd said that the initial estimated size of the fire was between eight and 10 acres and that no buildings were threatened by the blaze.

“You know we’ve lived here for more than 50 years and the last time we had a fire was some time in the 1960’s, but it was not this big,” Matthew Bumbry said as he watched the bulldozer make its way through the heavy brush, knocking down everything in its way.

Bumbry, who was in good spirits considering the incident, said that he welcomed the new path.  

“My doctor said that I need to walk more; well, now I’ve got my own path in the forest to do some walking,” he said.  

His wife, who also didn’t mind the path said that she would be keeping her distance from it.

“You won’t catch me walking back there,” she said with a smile on her face.  “I’m afraid of snakes and so my husband can go on his walks on his new path alone,” she added.

Lena Bumbry said that for several days a foggy haze had descended upon the area along with a faint smell of what she described was a wood fireplace burning.  

Dispatchers received another 911 call and dispatched firefighters back to Gambo Creek Road two days later, on Saturday, August 16 at 9:33pm.  Two units with three firefighters arrived at 9:49pm and observed that the fire was smoldering within the fire line.  Since it was contained, they cleared the scene at 10:01pm, officials said.

On the morning of Monday, August 20, Snape, returned to the scene of the second fire as part of her investigation as a representative of the lead investigative agency.

“Now that I have been able to use our GPS mapping program, I can tell you that the fire ended up being [less than] two acres.   She added that in a residential area such as this, a fire of this size could rapidly pose a significant danger to property and life.

“There were many places where the fire was still smoldering deep in the ‘duff’, the thick layer of partially decomposed pine needles and leaves,” Snape said.

She explained that it is not unusual for a fire like this to smolder for several days or until a good soaking rain.  There can even be flare ups in the hot, dry part of the afternoon. 

“When I visited the fire site [Monday] morning, the weekend rain seemed to have fully extinguished it, but it is possible that there is a smoldering spot or two under some roots somewhere the rain couldn’t get to.  But the fire appears to be out,” Snape said.

 She concluded that at this point it seems most likely that the two secondary fires were caused by an uncontained flare up of the earlier fire.  She said that while she did not have all the information to conclude her investigation yet, she would be working with the King George Sheriff’s Office to determine the cause of the first fire.  

Unconfirmed reports indicate that juveniles were involved in the cause of the fire; however, Snape said that it is unlikely that the fire will ultimately be classified as having been a result of arson.  

 

Christopher Wiggins  

 

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