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Local, state, regional assets used to battle wild fire

Times Observer photos by Brian Ferry A firefighter returns to the area of Mickleson Lane in Watson Township from the front of a Thursday wildfire.

A wildfire blazed through a swath of Watson Township on Thursday and was expected to continue burning through the night.

The call for a vegetation fire on Allegheny National Forest land went out at about noon.

Windy conditions led to difficulty containing the fire and by 6 p.m., it had consumed about 100 acres in the area of Cobham Hill Road, east of the Allegheny River. Officials on the scene said there has not been a wildfire of that size on the ANF in more than a decade. There was another 100-plus acre fire in Warren County at the same time.

Personnel at the Watson Township scene were ready to attack the fire on the ground, but were instructed to stay back until it was safe for them to do so.

“A hand-dug line was not holding,” DCNR Fire Forester Jay Lindemuth said.

The pilot of a Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources helicopter lies under the aircraft to attach an 80-gallon Bambi bucket at a landing zone off of Cobham Hill Road in Watson Township.

“We disengaged for firefighter safety. It’s not safe to go in there with the wind.”

“The resources we have here… they’re ready to go as soon as the weather lets us,” he said.

One structure in the path of the fire was safe, with an area burned around it, Lindemuth said.

“Structures have been threatened,” ANF Fire Public Information Officer Wendy Andersen said. “No structures have been lost. Some residents won’t be able to get to their homes if they live close to the fire.”

ANF personnel were set up in front of private buildings just east of the fire line to help protect those properties in case the fire turned.

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry An Allegheny National Forest firefighter assigned to protect private property off of Mickleson Lane in Watson Township keeps an eye on the spreading fire.

The cause of the fire was under investigation, according to Lindemuth ad Andersen.

A unified command including Tidioute Volunteer Fire Department, Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR), and the U.S. Forest Service, according to Lindemuth.

Numerous resources were called to the scene.

In addition to local equipment and personnel from volunteer fire departments, Warren County Public Safety, DCNR and ANF, there were two airplanes and a helicopter, and more specialized teams and equipment on the way from Coudersport, Ridgway, Harrisburg, the Finger Lakes in central New York and the Wayne National Forest in southern Ohio.

One plane was used to provide reconnaissance to personnel on the ground.

A Pennsylvania Department of Conservation and Natural Resources helicopter carrying a Bambi bucket full of about 80 gallons of water flies to the head of a Watson County wildfire Thursday evening.

The DCNR helicopter, out of the Mid-State Tanker Base in Clearfield, landed near incident command, and hooked up to a Bambi bucket – an 80-gallon bucket that dangles below the aircraft where it scoops up water and drops it onto a fire. The proximity to the Allegheny River was convenient for the use of that equipment. “It can dip out of any water source,” Lindemuth said. “We’re going to have them attack and work at the head of the fire as long as they can.” The hope was that the fire could be controlled to the point where it was safe for ground crews to attack.

A single-engine air tanker (SEAT) also out of Clearfield dropped water on the fire several times. Lindemuth said that tactic was ineffective and the plane returned to Clearfield to load up with retardant.

Later, that plane moved on to fight a large fire off of Hemlock Road in Glade Township.

Both fires were estimated at over 100 acres. Between those fires and a structure fire during the same time in West Hickory, resources were spread thin.

“We have DCNR resources coming from Coudersport and Ridgway,” Lindemuth said. “We called in a Type 3 Incident Management Team. They should be established here tonight.”

Firefighters discuss conditions at a Thursday wildfire near Cobham Hill Road in Watson Township.

The complexity of wildfires is rated from five – the simplest, to 1 – most complex.

The incident management team allows local agencies to “do our day-to-day operations,” Lindemuth said.

U.S. Forest Service equipment and personnel were on the way, including “a Type-3 engine that was on the Wayne Nation Forest, originally from Utah” and, “a Green Mountain (Vermont) Type-6 engine is coming down from the Finger Lakes,” according to the ANF’s Robert Goulding.

Based on weather reports, officials expected the blaze to continue into Friday.

With an unusual number of fires over the past month and two uncommonly large fires in one day, officials asked that residents avoid burning.

Times Observer photo by Brian Ferry An Allegheny National Forest firefighter assigned to protect private property off of Mickleson Lane in Watson Township keeps an eye on the spreading fire.

“Please do not burn your trash or your yard waste in the spring when it’s hot, dry, and windy,” Andersen said.

Firefighters in a UTV drive down Mickleson Lane from the staging area off of Cobham Hill Road toward the head of a Thursday wildfire in Watson Township.

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