NEWBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — A skeleton crew of state fire foresters and volunteers continues to monitor a smoldering wildfire in Cumberland County.
By Thursday morning, crews were able to contain the fire which sparked a day before atop a mountain in the Tuscarora State Forest near Newburg. Crews tending to hot spots along Three Square Hollow Road estimated the damage affected a roughly 100-acre section of woods.
“It takes a lot of extremely hard work to put out a mountain fire,” said Ivan Bretzman, a Pennsylvania Forest Fire Warden. “Fall and spring are the worst times of year.”
The Newburg fire did not occur in Bretzman’s district, but he’s been keeping in touch with those battling to keep it contained. He has also taken time to change his Smoky Bear sign near Mt. Holly Springs to indicate “Very High” fire danger, due to conditions.
Unfortunately, the weather right now has been very touchy,” he said. “It’s been very dry. We haven’t had rain here in weeks. Maybe a few sprinkles, but that’s it. Lots of dry leaves on the ground, and that’s fuel for fire. If the humidity gets low, the fire danger gets high. The wind is very critical this time of year. You can have a raging wildfire at any point.”
Bretzman wouldn’t speculate about a cause of the Newburg fire, which remains under investigation. However, he says the most common causes of wildfires in Pennsylvania are an uncontrolled open burn, arson and lightning. The third possibility unlikely, he warns anyone entering the forest to use extra caution, including the hundreds of thousands of hunters who will head out in search of bear and deer over the next few weeks.
“Its very rare, but we’ve had a hunter or two get cold and start a fire,” he recalls. “I’d say its more likely someone would take ashes out of a wood stove and dump them outside. That can smolder for two or three days before the ground catches fire. And I would advise nobody to burn outside right now.”
Careless discarding of a cigarette could also set a fire into motion, said Bretzman. While the majority or fires are sparked accidentally, persons found responsible are still liable, according to Pennsylvania law. According to the PA DCNR website, A person who has caused a wildfire, in addition to possible criminal penalty, is liable for damages, costs of extinction and fines.