Parrott Fire climbs Big Walker Mtn.
William Paine/The Patriot
Fire on the Mountain – The fire ravaged this hillside off of Parrott River Road
By WILLIAM PAINE
Early Sunday afternoon, a forest fire sprang to life near Parrott River Road at the far northeastern edge of Pulaski County, where big Walker Mountain meets the New River. The fire spread quickly through this heavily forested and lightly populated section of the county and as yet, there have been no deaths or injuries reported as a result of this fire.
“The fire started on the dirt side of Parrott River Road and the wind just caught it and took it straight up the mountain,” said Twin Community Volunteer Fire Chief Chuck Nester on Monday afternoon.
“Currently, our crews and a dozer crew are constructing hand lines along the top of the mountain,” said Brad Wright, the Pulaski County Emergency Services Coordinator. “a hand line is a fire break to stop the spread of the fire and it’s dug in by hand. This is done by removing flammable materials and creating a barrier. If we hold it within the lines that we want to hold it in, it’s 300 plus acres.”
The containment area stretches from Parrott River Road to locations on Dry Branch Road and across Big Walker Mountain into Giles County.
How does the fire department get water to the steep slopes of Big Walker Mountain to douse the flames?
“You don’t,” said Chief Nester. “You just put fire breaks in and let it burn out. We take all the burnable material away and just take it to the dirt. We have a dozer but couldn’t get but so far because It’s such a rough and rocky mountainside.”
Goldie and Zach Page live on Dry Branch Road and several members of their immediate family have houses along Parrott River Road, which is where the fire began. The mother and son were anxiously eyeing the flames as they drove along Parrott River Road.
“Our house is very much in danger,” said Zach Page.
“With the wind changing direction, I’m afraid this fire is going to jump to this mountain and our house would be right smack in the middle,” said Goldie, who claims the fire started when a neighbor’s controlled burn got out of control.
When asked about their immediate plans, Goldie Page replied, “My mom’s already got a hotel room but I’ll probably just sit right here and watch my hometown burn.”
As Monday afternoon turned to evening, the wind once again picked up and a light rain began to fall.
“The wind direction keeps changing on us,” said Chief Nester. “But it’s starting to rain, so that’s helping us out and it’s blowing back into the burn area now and that’s helping us out a lot. That’s what we were hoping for. We’d like to have a little more rain but we’ll take what we can get right now. If this keeps this up. We’ll be okay.”
In addition to the Twin Community Volunteer Fire Department, members of the Snowville and Fairlawn volunteer fire departments were also on scene. The Virginia Department of Forestry worked with the Pulaski County Emergency Management to coordinate a response to the fire. Members of the Pulaski County Wildlife Mitigation Module and the Southwest Virginia Incident Management Team were also on scene.
Parrott Fire Update
10 a.m. Wednesday Nov. 1
The smattering of rainfall Monday evening and the less windy conditions on Tuesday allowed firefighters some time to shore up their firebreaks but there is still fire on the mountain.
Wednesday morning brought freezing temperatures and heavy Northwest winds.
At 10 a.m. Emergency Services Coordinator Brad Wright said, “The fire is 50% contained and most of that containment is on Parrott River Road and the railroad tracks going into Giles County back to the intersection of Dry Branch Road.”
As of Wednesday morning, the tiny community of Parrott was out of danger but residences along Dry Branch Road were now threatened. It turns out, Goldie Page had reason to be worried, the fire that had begun along Parrott River Road had shifted and was now threatening the Dry Branch Road section of Pulaski County where she lives.
“Four of the five homes that were threatened in Dry Branch have been fired out around those homes yesterday (Tuesday). So that only leaves us one home within the containment area that is still threatened. We hope to mitigate that today. We did it under favorable weather conditions, no winds, higher humidity, you know … the opposite of what today is.”
Several members of the Virginia Forest Department continued putting in break lines further up the mountain, as local firefighters concentrated on keeping residences out of harm’s way by burning out all the fuel around the home.
“We burn it on our terms and not the fire’s terms,” said Wright.
The hand lines/fire breaks are typically 5 to 6 feet across or 8 feet if made by a bulldozer. The fire crews try to use existing trails, fire roads or paved roads to make these fire breaks whenever possible.
“I’m concerned today because of the high winds and the low humidity,” Said Wright. “The fire became active again at about 3:30 this (Wednesday) morning. Power went out because a burning tree fell on the power lines but power was restored. We’re still having burning trees falling on Parrott River Road.”
Even though this forest fire has drawn uncomfortably close to mountain communities, as of Wednesday, no evacuations had been ordered.
“I was getting phone calls from Giles County last (Tuesday) night because when the winds picked up it started coming down the mountain on their side,” recounted Wright. “They hadn’t seen that much fire in the day and then all of the sudden there was a big blob of fire coming down the mountain. In daytime you see the smoke and at nighttime you see the flame. So, it looks worse in the nighttime.”
“This morning we checked to make sure the fire was still in the containment lines, which it was, and then we reassured the homeowners,” Wright continued. “At 3:30 this morning the fire was threatening homes on Dry Branch. As the day goes on, it’s going to come down the mountain and up Dry Branch. It’s not going up the mountain as much. It’s going out the side of the mountain and down.
According to Wright, as of noon Wednesday, the Parrott fire had burned at least 300 acres, though it had not yet reached many of the firebreaks/hand lines that had been made to contain the flames. If and when the fire extends to the full area of containment, that would equal nearly 500 acres of burnt woodlands.
“It if gets outside of those lines, it will be back to the drawing board,” said Wright. “You know, where are we going to put the next section of line in that’s going to hold. Pop up fires are a risk as well. We’ll have to keep going back and blowing the lines off. Some of the lines we put in Monday have already been covered up because the leaves are still falling. Even after it burns out, it’s still going to have smoke coming from it because it’s so dry. The smoke will decrease but there will probably be some smoke until we get significant rainfall.”
More as this story develops, until then, Wright asks non residence to stay clear of both Dry Branch and Parrott River roads.