Four-alarm brush fire forces Joppa residents to evacuate Easter afternoon

Numerous crews in Harford County and eastern Baltimore County have been fighting a four-alarm brush fire in Joppa since 1 p.m. Sunday.

By 7 p.m., 18 acres of woods near Trimble and Dembytown roads had been lost, according to Jim Lyons with the Joppa-Magnolia Volunteer Fire Company. Within the hour, however, Lyons believed crews would be wrapping up.

People were also evacuated from homes along Dembytown Road. No injuries were reported.

Representatives of the Maryland Department of Natural Resources Forest Service were at the Joppa location Monday morning. They were checking for any hot spots, as well as strengthening the lines of containment, Forest Ranger Shawn Day said.

Although there may have been smaller brush fires in Harford County, DNR Regional Fire Manager Ric Lillard said Monday the only significant brush fire has been the Joppa one Sunday afternoon. That fire was particularly "hazardous" because of the proximity to homes and businesses, he said, but a fire line has been created.

The fire line is the main tactic the department uses to control forest fires, he added. In cases of smaller fires, firefighters use hand tools to dig a trail around the fire but because of the size of the Joppa fire, a bulldozer had to be used, Lillard said.

Water is helpful, he added, but there isn't enough manpower to put large forest fires completely out.

Digging the trail scrapes all the vegetation out of the fire's path, so there isn't any fuel to burn. Residents may still continue to see smoke from various hot spots within the 18 acres, but Lillard said the fire is safe and they will monitor it daily until it goes out.

"The fire is safe at this point," he said. "It's not spreading [and] we are checking daily."

Many people believe brush fire season does not start until the summer months, Lillard said, but for Maryland the brush fire season is in the spring and fall. March was unusually warm and dry and April has been so far, too, which is why the "fire danger" is so high, he added.

"Obviously, people shouldn't burn brush right now," he said. "It's just not the time."

The leading cause for brush fires in general is when people burn debris without realizing the dry conditions, but there are less common causes, Lillard said. In some occasions, people have parked cars over dry vegetation and the heat from the exhaust system is enough to start a fire.

In general, however, Lillard said the main thing is for people to be aware of the heightened fire danger and to avoid using any type of fire outside.

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