Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Spectacular fire engulfs marsh

The Associated Press

MENTOR, Ohio - A fast-moving marsh fire with 20-foot flames spewed rolling, dense black smoke hundreds of feet into the air Monday near a residential area.

Marsh fire spews dense black smoke near a residential area in Mentor, Ohio.
(Plain Dealer/Thomas Ondrey photo)
| ZOOM |
No homes were evacuated and no injuries were reported in the fire that charred about half of the 673-acre Mentor Marsh State Nature Preserve about 25 miles northeast of Cleveland, fire officials said.

The fire, which started between 1:30 and 2 p.m., destroyed about 350 to 400 acres of 6-feet tall grasses, Battalion Chief Dale Lewis said.

Bob Archer, director of the Lake County Emergency Management Agency, said authorities did not know what caused the blaze but said conditions were "unbelievably dry."

"The wind, of course, is feeding it," Archer said. "It's just moving right through the marsh." The National Weather Service said winds were 5 to 10 mph.

The grasses' reeds have an oily base that causes black smoke and fuels flames that are similar to an oil fire, Lewis said.

Lewis said he expected the fire would go out on its own Monday night as it ran out of vegetation to burn. Firefighters can control the fire's outer edges, he said, but walking in the murky marsh is dangerous.

"We're pretty confident we're going to be able to take care of it," Lewis said.

Archer said fires occur frequently in the marsh during dry springs but that Monday's fire was among the most severe. "It's been a number of years since we've had something this large," he said.

Some people living near the marsh were worried about their homes being destroyed. Traffic was rerouted around streets blocked by hoses and fire equipment, but people could still reach their homes.

Doug Luther, 35, said the fire got within about 50 feet of a neighbor's home that sits along the marsh, so he ran over to rescue his neighbor's dog.

Firefighters quickly fought off the advancing blaze, Luther said.

When David Cadman, 76, saw the flames, he used a garden hose to drench his backyard barn so it wouldn't burn.

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