11 States Fight Brush Fires
New Jersey and Massachusetts, Each Have $1,000,000 Fires—Soldiers Aid Firemen
FIRE FIGHTING forces of eleven eastern states were hard pressed in April as Spring brush and forest fires swept through parched sections destroying houses and other structures in their path. The situation was most critical in New Jersey, where over 84,000 acres of woodland were blackened, with an estimated damage including property damage, of over $1,000,000. Other states affected approximately in order of losses were Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, New Hampshire Vermont and North Carolina.
Weather Blamed for High Losses
These fires were said to be the result of the combination of weather conditions, ground conditions, and human activities. A dry spring has increased fire hazards due to tinderdry woods and brush. Under the classification of human activities are listed such things as people burning brush, careless smokers, railroad trains throwing sparks, and malicious setting of fires.
One large fire in Monmouth County, N. J. brought out 5,000 soldiers from Fort Dix to aid in combatting the blaze. At one time, a unit of about eighty soldiers was partially encircled while fighting a blaze near Pinehurst, but they were guided to safety by instructions dropped to them by an airplane. This fire swept to within five miles of Lakehurst, destroying about fifty-one homes, but it did not endanger the Naval Air Station.
In New York State, approximately nine fires taxed fire fighters, but no homes were reported destroyed. In Suffolk County, over twenty thousand feet of lumber and a large number of fowl were destroyed as a bad fire swept through the Brentwood area. It was reported that five homes were burned to the ground.
In Marshfield, Mass., although no accurate count of the number of buildings and homes destroyed had been made, it was estimated that between 400 and 500 were leveled in the Ocean Bluff section by a runaway brush fire, causing a loss in excess of $1,200,000.
Wooden Roofs Spread Fire
A grass and brush fire in waste land back of the heavily built beach front, combined with inadequate water supply, lack of fire fighting equipment and a high wind, spelled the doom for this old summer resort. Within an hour after the brush fire had started, the homes in Ocean Bluff were subjected to a hail of burning embers. Wooden roofs immediately caught fire. Chief Silas S. Wright of the Marshfield Fire Department had scarcely reached the scene of the fire when a number of houses were enveloped in flames. He immediately sent out a call for help to towns within a thirty-mile radius of Marsh-field and received prompt response.
The fire fighters tried to stem the rush of the flames by getting to the lee of the blaze, but it was a losing fight. So intense was the heat that it was necessary for the men to evacuate their positions, leaving behind thousands of feet of hose and, in one case, a fire truck, owned by Duxbury, a neighboring town. The lead encasing telephone cables melted and formed a hail of molten lead which sprinkled the fire fighters.
Flames Spread Rapidly
Fire officers reported an astounding speed of destruction of buildings involved. There seemed to be no period of burning, merely a puff of flame and then a heap of flaming ruins. Flames would jump a block and even two blocks at a time, and then destroy the buildings and houses between the two flame fronts. Within six hours after the fire was discovered, the Ocean Bluff area was flattened, except for a few lucky homes that were only seared by the fire. A lucky shift in the wind gave the firemen a chance to make a permanent stand and prevent the further spread of the fire to Brant Rock fire zone.
Usually the marshes and waste land are burned early in the fire season as a preventative measure. This year, the town decided that since there had been no serious fires in the past few years, that it would not be necessary to burn the marshes, thus saving the $300 usually appropriated. A saving of $300 will cost the residents about $1,200,000.
Aid Rushed from Many Towns
Aid was given the Marshfield Fire Department by men and apparatus from Kingston, Duxbury, Plymouth, Brockton, Falmouth, Bourne, Norwell, Cohasset, Scituate, Rockland, Whitman, Abington, Middleboro, Hanover, Shawme Forest, Myles Standish State Forest, State Conservation Department, Bridgewater, Weymouth,Hingham, Braintree, Randolph, Holdbrook, Hull, Wellfleet, Barnstable, Mashpee, Plympton, Carver, Pembroke and Hanson.
25 Homes Lost in Arundel County
Among the many forest fires which burned in Maryland on April 20, the blaze in Anne Arundel County is believed to have caused the most damage. This forest fire burned on a mile-wide front for a distance of over ten miles, destroying more than twenty-five homes. As the blaze neared the city of Baltimore, six engine companies raced out to meet it. All available apparatus in the county was called out, augmented by soldiers and sailors from Fort Meade and the Naval Academy.
Many persons in shore developments had to flee out onto the Chesapeake Bay to escape the flames. Apparatus raced everywhere in trying to cut the advance of flames near the numerous summer cottage settlements. One company alone, the Arbutus Volunteer Fire Department of Baltimore County, responded to sixteen house fires in the thirteen hours during which they battled the flames.
Spread of the flames was blamed on the shortage of forest fire equipment, as crews of broom and shovel men scattered before the lightning advance of the “crown” fires. Anyone who had a pump can was busy the entire time he was at the fire. At one location, a child became entangled in briars through which the fire was advancing. All efforts to douse the fire with buckets of water, or to get at the child were fruitless. Volunteer Fred Gick of the Arbutus company arrived with an Indian pump can and extinguished the fire immediately. This was only one instance of the many narrow escapes at this fire.
With almost a score of volunteer fire chiefs dashing about and giving conflicting orders, many of the volunteer companies at the fire disregarded them entirely and placed themselves under the command of Battalion Chief Harry Dolle of the Baltimore Fire Department, who arrived with six city engines.
Other serious forest fires in Maryland on that date were—
Western Maryland—Garrett Co., 1,000 men mobilized to fight one serious blaze.
Eastern Shore—8,000 acres in Wicomico Co.
Southern Md.—2,000 acres in St. Mary’s Co.
Also a general alarm in Maryland near District of Columbia.