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100 evacuate as four-alarm brush fire burns in Harford County

Dry and windy conditions are leaving much of the Baltimore region ripe for fires, National Weather Service warns

By Chris Kaltenbach and Candus Thomson, The Baltimore Sun

7:39 PM EDT, April 8, 2012

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Some 100 Joppa residents were evacuated from their homes Sunday afternoon as a brush fire burned just over 18 acres in the area of Dembytown and Trimble roads.

The Joppa fire, which burned for more than five hours, came as officials spent the weekend warning Marylanders that dry, windy conditions were making much of the state ripe for such brush fires.

The four-alarm blaze was largely under control by early evening, said Chief Ryan Barrow of the Joppa-Magnolia Volunteer Fire Department. The residents, who were evacuated to nearby Magnolia Elementary, were allowed to return to their homes shortly after 5:30 p.m., he said.

The fire, first reported at 12:48 p.m., burned for most of the afternoon. No one was hurt, Barrow said, and no structures were damaged. The fire was contained "for the most part" by 6 p.m., he said

At the fire's height, about 25 pieces of equipment and more than 100 firefighters and other emergency personnel were on the scene, he said, including representatives from Baltimore County, Harford County, Aberdeen Proving Ground, the state Department of Natural Resources and the Maryland Emergency Management Agency.

"It was getting pretty out of control, because of the winds," Barrow said.

With a weekend forecast of dry conditions and gusty winds, the National Weather Service had placed much of the region under a fire danger warning through 8 p.m. Sunday. A weather watch has also been issued for Monday, when a cold front with westerly gusts to 35 mph is expected to push through the region and relative humidity will drop below 30 percent.

Gusty winds up to 30 mph and dry conditions have created an ideal situation for "explosive fire growth," the agency said.

Regional rainfall is about four inches below normal and little relief is in the forecast.

The Baltimore Department of Public Works issued a statement Sunday morning reminding residents that grilling, campfires and outdoor cooking are prohibited in conservation areas around city reservoirs.

State Forester Steven Koehn said his staff was watching the situation.

"We are not contemplating issuance of a burning ban at this time, as number of fire starts, rate of spread, time to control and drought indexes for fuel moisture do not as yet warrant such measures," Koehn said.

On Saturday, state forest service crews responded to a five-acre fire on Prettyboy Dam Road in Baltimore County. The blaze, which involved Gunpowder Falls State Park, was contained and a crew remained on the scene overnight to prevent chances of rekindling.

Also, crews are cleaning up after a two-acre fire on Saturday near Wolfsville damaged South Mountain State Park, Koehn said.

In Glen Burnie, a two-alarm fire Saturday burned about five acres near Glen Burnie Park Elementary School, Anne Arundel Battalion Chief Steve Thompson said Sunday. There were no injuries and no buildings were affected, he said.

"All these conditions were pretty high for having a brush fire," Thompson said.

Region-wide, Maryland Park Service managers and rangers have been updated and wildfire suppression equipment is ready to respond, said Lt. Col. Chris Bushman, deputy superintendent.

Over the past 10 years, April has been second to March in the number of wildfires reported in Maryland. Last year, fires scorched 8,310 acres, nearly twice the 10-year average, according to the Maryland Forest Service. Debris burning and arson accounted for half of those wildfires.

chris.kaltenbach@baltsun.com

candy.thomson@baltsun.com

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