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Hopewell 2 Wildfire Management

April 1, 2016

By Daniel Barringer, Preserve Manager

Today there was another fire at Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site and French Creek State Park. I first noticed smoke at around 4:20 as I was feeding the calves. Interestingly I live almost a mile closer to this fire than where the calves are currently grazing, but you could not see the smoke from our house or from the Crow’s Nest visitor center. Kids at the afternoon Nature Clubs had just headed out to play in the mud near the creek. This is what the smoke looked like at 4:40 from the hilltop of Harmonyville Road. The fire was burning along the Raccoon Trail between Buzzard Hill on the right and the ridge that goes out to Miller’s Point to the rear. Rain predicted all day did not arrive until later; storm clouds were gathering.

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A helicopter was dropping water from Hopewell Lake repeatedly and did a lot to contain the spread of the fire. I grabbed my gear and met the volunteers assembling in the field at Hopewell Furnace. Members of the Natural Lands Trust fire crew who arrived included Darin Groff, Cooper Williams, Sean Quinn, and volunteer Joe Torre. Dozens of local firefighters and DCNR Bureau of Forestry Staff also assembled.

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Then a thunderstorm rolled in and it rained torrentially for about 20 minutes. You would think that would put out the fire, but it only extinguished the light fuels: grasses and small-diameter twigs.

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After the rain stopped Darin went up in the helicopter to size up the fire. There were innumerable snags—dead oaks killed by Gypsy moths or by the last fire—that were actively burning. Burning standing snags can spurt embers great distances and start fires well in front of an actively burning head fire—or restart a fire that is otherwise mostly out.

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A sawyer crew from Quakertown walked in to begin felling the burning snags. Darin continued to head up operations while the rest of us went in to support the sawyer crew. We teamed up with former NLT preserve manager Wayne Martin (left, below) who was dropping burning trees that then needed to be scraped as part of the mop-up process. Operations ceased when it got dark.

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There is a lot of work to be done in daylight Saturday, especially since high winds are predicted. A new crew will begin at dawn. The eastern part of French Creek State Park will be closed until the fire is out.

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