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Bertie blaze burns 250 acres

AULANDER – What started as a vehicle fire turned into much more near here Tuesday afternoon.

North Carolina Forest Service personnel from Bertie, Chowan, Hertford and Pasquotank counties were joined by firefighters from three departments to battle a 250 acre woods fire on a stretch of Francis Mill Road. The scorched timberland is owned by the FYA Group, managed by Michael D. Neal & Associates of Colerain, and Ernie Evans of Murfreesboro.

Bertie County Forest Ranger Mike Hoggard said forest service personnel on the ground and in the air worked in unison to have the fire contained by 8 p.m.

Hoggard said four North Carolina Forest Service (NCFS) tractors (one each from the Bertie, Chowan and Hertford County offices as well as one from the District Office in Elizabeth City) were used to help bring the fire under control. In the air, four NCFS planes were used, including two Dromaders, each capable of dropping 500 gallons of fire retardant per pass. Hoggard said 14 drops were made by those planes on the Francis Mill Road fire.

The blaze was sparked by a vehicle fire, according to Lt. Jason Tinkham of the Aulander Volunteer Fire Department.

“A lady operating a 2005 Chevrolet Impala noticed smoke coming from the dashboard of her car as she was traveling on Francis Mill Road,” Tinkham said. “She pulled the car onto the shoulder of the road from where the fire spread into the woods.”

Upon arriving on the scene, Tinkham said flames were “treetop tall” over a plantation of young pines, forcing the closure of a portion of Francis Mill Road to thru traffic.

Due to the severity of the fire, Tinkham said a decision was made to summon mutual aid from the Lewiston-Woodville and Millennium volunteer fire departments.

“We wanted to make sure we had plenty of water on the scene just in case the fire jumped the road as well as making sure the brush trucks had a steady supply of water,” Tinkham said. “While it was unfortunate that we had a fire, the wind did push the flames away from the road. That prevented the fire from jumping the road where there was a maturing plantation of taller pines.”

Tinkham said the Aulander Fire Department was on the scene for three and one-half hours. He thanked the Lewiston-Woodville and Millennium firefighters for their assistance.

Hoggard said he and other Forest Service personnel returned Wednesday to the scene of the fire where they walked the lines looking for any trouble spots.

“We’ve still got a little mopping-up to do on this fire,” he said. “We should have it all tidied up in a couple of days.”

Hoggard closed by reminding local residents that it’s still March, meaning that the peak of the fire season is now.

“We still have dry fuels (leaves, limbs, etc) on the ground at this time of the year coupled with low humidity and windy days,” Hoggard noted. “Please be careful with any type of outdoor burning.”