Three fires along the causeway in as many days

Published 6:30 am Tuesday, September 24, 2019

Three fires in three days at the same location can be a little annoying for any fire department.

“They have certainly been a nuisance,” said Roanoke Island Volunteer Fire Department chief Talmadge Jones.

There have been three calls in as many days to fires within the storm debris along the Manteo-Nags Head Causeway. Jones said he hopes it will not be like last year when there were five or six calls before debris could be picked up.

Get the latest headlines sent to you

With westbound lanes blocked to give firefighters room to work, traffic quickly backed up on US Highway 64 across the Washington Baum Bridge into Nags Head.

On Monday, Fire Marshal Steve Kovacks was at the fire scene and advised that county officials assured him the debris would be a top priority.

According to Public Works director Shanna Fullmer, the county signed a contract for debris removal Monday and removal started Tuesday.

A major concern with Monday’s fire included the potential for any fire to jump the ditch on the north side. Once across the water barrier, a fire could run unabated into Pirate’s Cove or even north to the Town of Manteo.

“When I got there, the wind was up a bit and smoke [was] laying across the canal and over the marsh,” explained Jones. “It was a concern that the fire could get into the marsh. If it gets across the canal and sets that marsh on fire, it can threaten everything on the north side of 64 there going out of and coming into Manteo. It can burn right up behind the Peninsula and depending on the wind shift, everything on the north side of 64 could or would be affected up to Ballast Point.”

None of the fires were little. Saturday’s burn covered about 100 feet and the Monday fire stretched out to about 125 feet. Sunday’s burn was the smallest of the three at only 60 to 70 feet.

Causes for each fire are still under investigation, but Jones said the conditions were right for each fire.

“When the humidity is low on bright, sunshiny days, it doesn’t take much of a spark from a catalytic converter, a lit cigarette butt out a window or even spontaneous combustion,” he continued. “It’s just like mulch. It can heat itself. So, some of it could be spontaneous combustion.”

According to Jones, extinguishing such fires are no simple task.

“The way it burns, it is not just a matter of spraying the flames on top to extinguish a fire, you have to get down into the pile,” Jones explained. “If you do not roll it out and work your way to the bottom, it will ignite again. That’s why it takes us so long to get it extinguished. It’s not just spraying out the flames you see on top.”

Each fire call did take a while. Saturday’s call had firefighters on scene for almost two hours. Sunday, it was just over one hour and on Monday, firefighters were at the scene at least 90 minutes.