Woods fire at Cacapon Resort pushed by high winds

by Lisa Schauer & Kate Evans

A blaze in a wooded area near Cacapon State Park Resort’s maintenance building was further fueled by high winds on Thursday night, making fire response trickier along the rocky ridge that runs to the east of the park’s golf course.

Firefighters from Morgan, Frederick, Washington and Berkeley Counties battled a large brush fire at Cacapon State Park for over five hours on Thursday night in extremely windy conditions.  Multiple fire calls  came in to the Morgan County 911 Dispatch Center for the brush fire around 6:28 p.m. on December 2, said 911 Deputy Director Marshall Younker.

Park officials were notified at 6:39 p.m. of a fire on the park property, according to Superintendent Scott Fortney.

The fire was located at 300 Saddle Lane near the maintenance shed for the golf course between the golf course and the horse stables.  No structures were involved in the fire, Younker said.

Fortney said the fire burned 2.3 acres before it was contained at about 11 p.m.

According to firefighters, the fire involved between four and a half and five acres and was in an area that was wooded with lots of fallen trees and a lot of leaves which provided lots of fuel for the fire, said South Morgan Volunteer Fire Company Deputy Chief Brian McNelly.  McNelly was first on the fire scene and took initial command for the first hour.

McNelly said that when he first arrived the fire was already up in the trees about 25 feet high.  Winds were at least 10-15 miles an hour with strong gusts that went on the entire time they fought the blaze. There were a couple of lean-tos for maintenance equipment near the fire.

Fortney said the cause of the fire was undetermined, though several people reported hearing a downed power line was responsible for the blaze.

McNelly said it looked like a brush pile was there where the fire may have started but no one knows how the fire got started.  There are no power lines near there.

McNelly said he transferred command to Berkeley Springs Volunteer Fire Department Chief James Steiner and took over fire operations.   Manpower was also an issue in the beginning but after fire companies were re-alerted other people came out to the fire scene, he said.

The fire was rolling when firefighters first got there but they placed a fire break around the perimeter to stop it and then started putting it out, McNelly said.   Two UTVs — four-wheelers that carry water on them — also came to help out.

The last unit left the fire scene at 11:48 p.m. The park service put someone on alert to watch the fire scene overnight, McNelly said.  There were no rekindles.

Units that responded to the fire scene were South Morgan, Berkeley Springs, Reynolds Store, Great Cacapon, Hancock, Gainesboro, Hedgesville and Gore Volunteer Fire Companies, Younker said.   Morgan County Emergency Medical Services and its director, the Morgan County Sheriff’s Department, the West Virginia Division of Forestry and the Park Service Superintendent also responded.

An alarm sounded in the main lodge at the time of the fire. Guests reported that the alarm sent many people out of doors. Fortney said it was a low water alarm caused by the tankers pulling water from the hydrant in front of the Old Inn.

“Fire departments from West Virginia, Virginia and Maryland responded. They did a great job, and without them, we couldn’t have contained it,” Fortney said.

Jim Chittock took this photo of the fire and responding fire units from the patio of Cacapon Lodge on Thursday evening.

Woods on fire at the edge of Cacapon State Park’s golf course. photo by Monty Goff