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Wildfires burn in county
Several blazes fueled by wind, dry weather
About 100 firefighters battled a brush fire Monday in the Horsepasture District that consumed up to 100 acres as winds fueled its rapid spread. Above, firefighters watch a small portion of the blaze off Fairfield Lane near U.S. 58 West. Earlier, crews dug a ring around the fire to contain it. A separate fire near Patsy Avenue in Collinsville burned about 14 acres Monday.
Several fires blazed through brush and woods locally Monday, fueled by high winds and dry conditions.
As much as 100 acres burned in the Horsepasture area. Horsepasture Volunteer Fire Chief Charles Bradshaw said it was the largest brush fire he could remember in Henry County in his 37 years as a firefighter.
The fire was reported around 2:30 Monday afternoon and was contained by 9:30 p.m. However, firefighters were expected to remain on scene until about midnight monitoring the area, said Henry County Public Safety Director Dale Wagoner.
The fire's cause had not been determined Monday night.
Standing on a hillside overlooking the scene around 8 p.m. Monday, Bradshaw explained that the fire was burning in three main locations, but they all were connected. One was off Club House Road, across the Smith River from the old DuPont plant. The other was off Fairfield Lane, a gravel road off Summit Road, which is off U.S. 58 west of Martinsville. The third was farther up Summit.
About 100 firefighters from area departments as well as eight employees of the Virginia Department of Forestry were battling the blaze. Its exact size was difficult to determine because of the terrain, but Bradshaw said it was between 50 and 100 acres, "probably more towards 100."�
High winds made it impossible to fight the fire from its front with water, Bradshaw said, adding that the fire could jump from the top of one loblolly pine to another to spread quickly. The blaze also jumped several fire lines that were designed to contain the blaze.
So firefighters used a practice called back burning, in which they use bulldozers to dig a trench behind the fire, Bradshaw and Wagoner said.
The area on the fire side of that trench was to be lit so the intentional fire would burn up to the existing brush fire, they said. Hopefully, it would not jump the trench behind the blaze and the fire would be contained in that area, they added.
The State Department of Forestry had two bulldozers working at the scenes.
Firefighters also were hampered by steep terrain. Wagoner said a tractor was brought into the Club House Road site to create a path so firefighters could reach the fire from there.
"The terrain is so rough they would be exhausted before they got there" if they tried to walk, he added.
Bradshaw said one house off Fairfield Lane was threatened by the fire, but the blaze was contained before it burned. There were no injuries, he and Wagoner said.
Rain began falling in the area around 10 p.m. Monday, and Wagoner expected that to help extinguish the blaze.
In Collinsville, a fire began around 2:30 p.m. Monday and quickly spread, ultimately involving around 14 acres, Wagoner said. That brush fire was between South Daniels Creek Road and Patsy Avenue.
Wagoner said the weather conditions made the fire spread rapidly, including wind gusts up to 40 miles per hour. The cause of the fire had not been determined, he said.
No structures burned, but residents in 64 homes near the fire were alerted using the Citizens' Alert System. He added that residents did not have to evacuate their homes because the fire was contained quickly, but they were warned of the potential danger and given the option to evacuate.
Wagoner said the Henry County Sheriff's Office helped significantly with the Collinsville fire. Deputies who were nearby when it began quickly arrived and began raking back brush that was not on fire, said Wagoner.
He added that it was "really because of their quick action" that there was "such success" getting the Collinsville brush fire under control.
"Even the sheriff was out here," Wagoner said, referring to Lane Perry.
Smaller brush fires occurred Monday in Bassett, including one on Blackberry Road and one off of Colonial Hill Drive. Henry County Fire Marshal Rodney Howell said a brush fire also occurred on Morgan Ford Road in Ridgeway, but it was extinguished earlier Monday.
By 6 p.m. Monday, the fire off Blackberry Road was extinguished, Wagoner said. The fire off of Colonial Hill Drive was contained around 9:30, he said.
The latter fire burned about 3 acres, he added.
Howell said he believed the Colonial Hill fire might have started with a power line that was knocked down, likely by strong winds.
Howell said the American Red Cross brought water for firefighters in both Collinsville and at Fairfield Lane.
Volunteer fire departments taking part in Monday's fires included those from Horsepasture, Ridgeway, Fieldale, Axton, Bassett, Collinsville and Dyers Store in Henry County and Moorefield Store, Fairystone and Patrick Henry in Patrick County, Wagoner and Howell said.
Fieldale-Collinsville and Horsepasture rescue squads, Henry County Public Safety and the forestry department also took part, they said.