Flames scorch forest

Fires strike parts of Candler’s Mountain

A portion of Candler’s Mountain went up in a blaze Saturday night, as several brush fires struck Central Virginia over the weekend due to strong winds. The fire ignited nearly one week after the area had experienced the first brush fire on Monday, Feb. 14.

Fan the Flames — Brush fires are on the rise because of high winds and little rain. Photo credit: Ruth Bibby

“Over the past week or so we’ve had a lot of strong winds. That fuels the flames and makes the fire spread very quickly,” said Matt Ferguson, WSET’s Good Morning Virginia meteorologist. “We also have very low humidity as well. So all that combined gives you the perfect setup for forest fires and brush fires.”

Ferguson said since Jan. 1, Lynchburg has only received a total of 1 ¾ inches of combined melted snow and rain. This puts the area four inches below normal for the year. With dry land and dry leaves covering the area, Ferguson said just a small spark can lead to what the area experienced this weekend.

Five days earlier, what began as a typical Valentine’s Day quickly turned into a day of unexpected danger, as Liberty University alumni Kirsten Wilson and her husband Daniel Wilson received news that a brush fire had broken out near their home in Liberty Ridge atop Candler’s mountain.

Fighting the Flames — Liberty Ridge residents were evacuated last Monday as local volunteer firefighters battled a blaze on Candler’s Mountain. Photo provided

“It was the last thing I ever thought would happen on Valentine’s Day,” Kirsten Wilson said.

Around 2:45 p.m. on Monday Kirsten Wilson heard about the fire in a text message from her husband. After leaving work, she arrived to the gate of her community, which was surrounded by security who were not allowing anyone to enter. Daniel Wilson was briefly allowed in once he told security their dog might be trapped inside.

Kirsten Wilson said they later learned the community’s realtor, Elizabeth Simms, had gone door-to-door retrieving pets that may have still been in their homes.

Thirty people, including the Wilsons, were evacuated and sent to stay in Liberty’s annex dormitories at the Lynchburg Inn. Members of the community were allowed to enter their homes briefly, for about 15 minutes according to Wilson, in order to gather up linens and towels.

“When we left, we were told we may be gone one night or we may be gone for four nights,” Kirsten Wilson said.
The evacuated residents stayed at the Lynchburg Inn for the night where they were given dinner and breakfast. They were allowed to return to their homes around 11 a.m. on Tuesday.

“It was very unsettling to know the fire was so close to our house,” Kirsten Wilson said.

On Thursday, the Wilson’s received an e-mail from Simms stating there would once again be high winds over the weekend.

“We still have smoldering debris behind Liberty Ridge but there was a fire line put in place around our development where the fire first had broke out,” Simms wrote in the e-mail.

She warned for residents to stay vigilant as a precaution.

Around 8:15 p.m. on Saturday, the Wilson’s received a call about the second brushfire that had broken out near Liberty’s paintball course and behind Campus East. The community was not evacuated but told to remain on the alert.

The Wilson’s spoke with one local police officer who was put on patrol at Liberty Ridge that night. He told them there was an estimated 10 to 20 acres of land in flames, according to Kirsten Wilson.

Ferguson said over the past few days, special weather statements and red flag warnings have been issued in the area due to high risks of fire danger.

Other areas of Virginia were also struck over the weekend including Amherst Country, where 50 to 75 acres of land was reportedly scorched; Hampton Roads, which reported 14 to 20 small brushfires in the cities of Virginia Beach and Norfolk; Woodbridge and Prince William County, which reported six major fires according to local reports; and Shenandoah Valley which reported more than 150 acres of scorched land. More than 100 wildfires are reported to have struck the state.

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