Huge woods blaze in Rockland Township finally extinguished
By MICHELLE SOTTIAUX

4/17/03

Special thanks to The Derrick for allowing this story to be posted

 


Emlenton firefighter Chad Grieff soaks hot spots and burning logs from the back of a truck as Emlenton assistant chief Barry Louise investigates other hot spots.

A woods fire that roared through several hundred acres of forest in Rockland Township was finally extinguished at 9 p.m. Wednesday, more than 30 hours after it started.

Forest and wildlife officials who surveyed the damage from the air Wednesday morning estimated that the fire scorched more than 340 acres of forest. However, Rockland Fire Chief Wayne Weaver said the fire took out additional ground during the day Wednesday.

Firefighters from volunteer departments all over Venango, Butler and Clarion counties returned to Brandon Acres early Wednesday morning to resume fighting the stubborn blaze.

"Most of the guys were down there most of the day yesterday and then were right back there again today," Weaver said.

Some firemen had been at the scene for more than 24 hours after crews from Rockland and Rocky Grove had stayed overnight to protect the many homes and cottages that line the riverfront area.

Weaver said fires burning on the south and west flanks of the main blaze had to be left burning through the night because firemen could not safely traverse the rough terrain in the dark.

Firemen arrived on the scene early Wednesday ready to map out a plan to squelch the blaze. Using topographical maps and bulldozers, crews had the fire under control by about 2 p.m. until a wind change caused a backfire and forced crews to rethink their plans.

"When the wind switched back on us, the backfire came down around the cottages and we had to reorganize to protect them," Weaver said.

The backfire was under control by 6 p.m., then firemen spent the next three hours mopping up and checking for hot spots.

Weaver couldn't say enough about the efforts of the many firefighters who assisted Rockland with the blaze.

Despite the gargantuan size of the fire and the many people who arrived to help extinguish it, not a firefighter was injured.

"It's just a credit to the training of each department. Everybody worked together like brothers," Weaver said.

Residents of the riverfront community gave exhausted firefighters a much-needed adrenaline boost each time they expressed their gratitude to the firemen, Weaver said.

The woods fire started shortly after 2 p.m. Tuesday in Brandon Acres. The blaze quickly spread up the river and over the dry brush, endangering the many homes and cabins that line the river.

Firemen from more than 25 departments worked diligently to protect the residences from damage.

Weaver said forest and wildlife officials are still investigating the cause of the blaze.

The chief said Rockland has never before seen a blaze of the magnitude.

"This was the granddaddy of them all," he said.