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Two boys playing in a barn started what became a three-alarm fire that destroyed an estimated 15 to 20 acres of cornfield and brush yesterday in Davidsonville, authorities said.

The fire, which also destroyed three barns, was discovered about 3:30 p.m. by the pilot of a county police helicopter flying overhead, authorities said.

Firefighters later took to the air in the helicopter to observe the spread of the fire.

Authorities were unable to immediately identify the owner of the property at the end of Jamestown Road, off Route 214.

Lt. Robert Kornmann, spokesman for the county fire department, said the cause of the fire was termed accidental. He said the boys, 11 and 12, told investigators that they thought they had extinguished the fire earlier. By the time firefighters arrived, the barns were nearly destroyed.

One barn was left standing. The fire did not seriously damage what appeared to be an unoccupied house on the property.

Kornmann said more than 40 firefighters using 19 pieces of equipment, including eight trucks designed to fight brush fires, broughtthe fire under control at 4:40 p.m.

Spotlights were being broughtto the scene to allow firefighters to continue fighting smoldering patches after sunset yesterday.

"The biggest problem is water," Kornmann said.

Tanker trucks ferried water to Jamestown Road, and hoses were snaked up a quarter-mile dirt road to carry water to the firescene.

No one was injured in the fire.

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