Responders: Bedford forest fire can last for days

CENTERVILLE – A fire blazing through a mountain forest south of Bedford will likely go on for days, burning through hundreds of acres and stopping only with extended rainfall, responders said Monday.

The Wills Mountain forest fire, one of several to hit the region during a particularly dry stretch of early spring, doesn’t threaten any homes, state Assistant District Forester Bryan Wilfort said. Burning since at least Saturday, it has drawn a wide response that includes specialized firefighting aircraft.

“It’s still expanding, but it’s moving out to our control lines,” Wilfort said Monday afternoon, referring to the cordon established by firefighters around the blaze.

Wilfort said earlier estimates that the fire could destroy 500 acres might well prove correct.

Even with firefighters successfully surrounding the blaze and establishing borders to contain it, it could take several days’ worth of rain to snuff the fire completely, he said.

National Weather Service forecasts show rain today for Centerville, with possible showers returning later in the week.

With little moisture in the air and dry vegetation fueling the fire, responders from the state Bureau of Forestry, the Game Commission and local departments called in planes and a helicopter to dump water and fire retardants on the affected area.

By Monday afternoon, the aircraft were grounded as responders worked to contain the blaze at ground level, Wilfort said.

A helicopter waited Monday at the Cumberland Valley volunteer fire station, where local and state authorities are coordinating the response, said Bedford County Emergency Management Director Dave Cubbison.

Cubbison said a later-than-hoped budding period and dry leaves on the ground created fire-prone conditions in the forested mountains south of Bedford. Authorities haven’t announced what sparked the fire.

Firefighers’ photographs from the scene Monday showed patches and lines of flame creeping along the woods with responders standing nearby. On Saturday, state officials pulled firefighters from the scene amid concerns for their safety at night, Bedford Fire Department officers said on their website.

“Even though you may not have the stupendous pictures you get in California … this thing is moving. It’s creeping,” Cubbison said. “This isn’t going to go out tonight.”

Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.