Fire departments unite to protect property, homes

Published 8:11 pm Monday, March 5, 2007

By By Adam Prestridge
The Alabama Forestry Commission is making aggressive efforts to catch the firebugs that set three separate fires in Escambia and Baldwin counties Wednesday afternoon.
According to authorities, the Forestry Commission is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to arrests in connection with the fires that burned hundreds of acres and endangering the homes and property of many.
Although it has not been confirmed that the fires were intentionally set, authorities believe it to be the case.
"Anytime you have three unexplained fires in an area this close, then you pretty much assume that was the case," Gary Cole, regional forester with the Alabama Forestry Commission, said in a statement.
Fire departments from throughout Escambia and Baldwin counties were dispatched to assist in controlling the blaze that continually reignited as a result of strong winds. The winds also carried embers through the air crossing all four lanes of the intestate near Perdido, causing brush fires along both sides of the roadway and median.
Personnel from Perdido, Nokomis, Lottie, Rabun, Poarch and Walnut Hill, Fla. volunteer fire departments responded along with members of the Atmore Fire &Rescue Department and Bay Minette Fire Department and worked together to contain the fires, which covered a couple hundred acres off Baldwin County 61 and approximately 20 acres in the Nokomis Community. Foresters were also on hand, equipped with bulldozers quickly working to plow firebreaks to prevent further damage. The Baldwin County Sheriff's Office, Escambia County Sheriff's Office, Atmore Police Department and Alabama State Troopers teamed up to direct traffic as it was diverted from I-65 through Atmore going south and from Perdido through Atmore going north.
As a result of the fires and the thick blanket of smoke they produced, the Alabama State Troopers Office was forced to close a nine-mile stretch of Interstate 65 for nearly four hours. Authorities reported one accident that occurred half a mile from the Escambia County line in Perdido where an 18-wheeler apparently rear-ended an RV pulling an economy car. It is believed heavy smoke was the cause of the accident prompting officials to shutdown the interstate.
No one was injured in the accident or from the fires although they did threaten several homes in the area.
The Interstate was re-opened around 3:45 p.m. Wednesday afternoon just in time for after-work traffic. The fire continued to burn and reignite throughout the evening hours, but Forestry officials anticipated the rains that saturated the area Thursday. Despite heavy rains, portions of the scorched earth continued to smolder throughout the afternoon.
Due to those thunderstorms, authorities believe all concrete evidence that would pinpoint the exact cause of the fires was washed away.
If you have any information pertaining to these fires contact the Forestry Commissions Office's arson hotline at 800-222-2927.

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