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Blaze battlers fighting wildfire

DECATUR - The pungent odor of burning wood and leaves assaulted the nostrils long before the smoke could be seen.

Then, as abruptly as driving into a fog bank, the billowy smoke invaded the valley in rural Decatur Township, obscuring everything with a cloudy haze, clear evidence that a forest fire was ravaging its way through more than 100 acres of the Wayne National Forest Monday.

Firefighters from the WNF,

Dean State Forest and the Decatur Township Volunteer Fire Department cleared a fire line in the thick forest and saturated the woods with water,

preparing for the fire that was creeping ever closer.

"I don't care how precious of a resource (the forest) is, it is not worth losing someone's life," Gloria Chrismer, Ironton District Ranger for the WNF said as firefighters prepared to start a fire of their own to consume all the fuels and extinguish the fire. "It is a dangerous situation. If all this catches, it is going to go quick."

While they continue to fight the blaze today, several long-time firefighters expect that the fire may consume more than 340 acres in the area west of State Route 93 off of Buckhorn Road before it is extinguished by what they hope will be early Wednesday.

The dry weather has not helped but another factor lies in the past, Chrismer said.

More than two years later, the February 2003 ice storms are still wrecking havoc on Lawrence County. In this case, all the downed debris and underbrush makes the firefighter's job even more difficult in the hills of Decatur.

"All the snags and down debris are a problem," said Phil Sammon, a public affairs officer for the WNF. "No. 1, it is keeping us from getting in there. No. 2, it is adding fuel to the fire."

Firefighters from the Wayne, Dean State Forest and Decatur Township were on scene since late Sunday night and were awaiting assistance from a firefighting helicopter and several "Hot Shots" groups of firefighting specialists.

"We just don't have the resources here in the district to handle this type of fire," Chrismer said.

So far, no one has been injured and no homes have been damaged. That is music to Arthur Stone's ears. The Stone family has lived at 3815 County Road 41 for approximately 8 years.

Though he was nervous before, Stone said he felt much better once they firefighter established a fire line and began spraying the woods with water.

"We are setting up a perimeter to protect the house, the property, and most importantly, the lives," said Bernie Cox, a Decatur firefighter for the past 25 years.

The cause of the fire has yet to be determined but does not appear to be related to a string of suspected arson fires in the forest last week, Sammon said.

"We are not exactly sure of the source yet," he said. "But our thoughts are that it is different than the arsons."