| July 29, 2008
Hatteras volunteer firefighters
helped douse the mainland wildfire
By AMBERLY DYER
It may take a village to raise a child, but it definitely takes many
villages to help control a forest fire. Both Salvo and Buxton
sent teams of volunteer firefighters in June to help stem the tide of
the Evans Road wildfire.
The fire, which began June 1 with a lightning strike deep in the woods,
quickly consumed more than 64 square miles in Hyde, Tyrrell, and
Washington counties. The smoke plume, dense and obstructing
vision at times, stretched as far west as the Raleigh suburbs, north to
Hampton Roads and beyond, and east to Hatteras and Ocracoke at times.
So when most people shut their homes and closed the windows to keep the
smoke and fire smell out, two volunteer firefighter teams answered the call
to provide much needed relief to the firefighters.
“Mutual aid was requested, so we responded,” says Brian Perry, chief of the Buxton Volunteer Fire Department.
Just a few days after soliciting volunteers, Buxton and Salvo were called upon to staff a rotation.
“Pretty much all of our guys are self-employed and they were able
to give 24 hours,” explains Chief Perry. “We switched crews
out each day.”
Salvo proceeded similarly, though rotating on slightly longer shifts over the weekend.
On Friday, June 13, the firefighters joined a long caravan of volunteer
station crews from Nags Head, Southern Shores, and Duck and headed to
base camp at Mattamuskeet High School.
Base camp allowed the volunteer and professional firefighters and
disaster crews to share shelter and meals, and for the teams to be
organized and deployed daily. With approximately 50 crews
present, hundreds of people occupied base camp.
“It looked like a place where people go in a disaster,”
describes Gene Stoehl, a three-year member of the Salvo department.
Firefighters from across the eastern region had been called upon.
“There were crews in from as far as Sea Level,” recalls
David Carter, a member of the Buxton Volunteer Fire Department since
Despite its disaster response setting, the base camp offered free
satellite television, telephones, laptop computers and Internet access,
and laundry service to the volunteers. Best of all, meals were
prepared by the Baptist Men’s Disaster Response Team.
Baptist Men fed us three square meals a day,” says Greg Mitchell,
a member of the Salvo department. “It was good homemade
All of the luxuries aside, the teams woke early to be ready for 7 a.m.
morning briefing – an hour and a half of logistics and directions
for the day's duties. The volunteers served under the Office of
the State Marshal, which received direction from the North Carolina
Forestry Service. After the briefing, they were organized into
teams of four to five crews and dispatched.
The first day was largely uneventful. As volunteer fighters,
their duties did not focus on attacking the fire but protecting
“It was to supplement the local fire departments,” adds Carter.
The Salvo crew found themselves in a semi-celebrity status because of
their draft truck. They were one of two draft trucks deployed
“Fire hydrants there [in Columbia and Tyrrell Counties]
weren’t capable to provide water to larger pumper trucks, so we
were brought in to fill trucks if needed,” Mitchell explains.
Stoehl describes the process further. “It means that you
pull water from a source, like a ditch or a pond, into the truck or
through the truck to another vehicle.” With all of the
lakes and canals around the affected Pocosin Wildlife Refuge, they were
moved into position.
“We got stationed at a draft point and waited,” says
Stoehl. Despite the flurry of activity, they soon found
themselves playing the old game of “hurry up and wait.”
“I had taken along a few beach chairs and got to read a bit of a book,” reflects Stoehl.
Sunday proved to be more event filled.
“They changed forestry personnel [on Sunday] so there were new
ideas [at the briefing],” Stoehl advises. “On our way
to Columbia, we got called to come back to stand by while they
completed a back burn.”
“We [Buxton] were one of few crews participating in a back burn
where they burned off harvested wheat fields,” Carter says.
Approximately 300 acres of fields were burned to create a fire break to
help contain the surface fire from spreading. The volunteer crews
were present to assure the fire did not jump the road, to close the
road to drivers (as needed), and to protect nearby structures,
including silos and homes.
Mitchell describes the back burn process. Forestry personnel
drove a small John Deere Gator vehicle, dropping small amounts of
ignited kerosene and gasoline. “He just drove in circles,
Salvo enjoyed the privilege of being the lead truck, riding with the
forestry ranger along the ditch. The fire produced a few
surprises as well.
we rode along, two black bears came out about 60 yards in front of
us,” Mitchell says. Like the humans, they were getting away
from the dense smoke and heat.
saw “fire tornadoes” from his station. “It looks
exactly like a tornado. It forms from hot ground and air picking
up ash and embers and swirling it all around.”
As the crews switched out and headed back, all Hatteras Island
volunteers were safe at home by Monday evening. “We were
all glad to come home,” Mitchell says.
In fact, despite being called for a five-day rotation, the crews were released on June 16 after four 24-hour shifts.
While they cannot take credit for fighting the fire, the change in
tactics, described by Stoehl, Mitchell, and Carter, resulted in the
fire going from being 25-35 percent contained to more than 65 percent
contained within the week of their efforts.
major shift helped change the tide of the fire containment.
Currently, the surface fire is out, but the fire continues to burn
underground because of the peat found in the swampy areas.
Fire officials say that a prolonged period of rain is needed to assure
that it is completely out.
Despite their almost sheepish willingness to discuss their work, the
local firefighters view their efforts as yet another part of living and
volunteering in a rural area. And, like many stories about rural
areas and small towns, they enjoyed the special connections and
hospitality people share.
Mitchell recalls one story that sums up the true meaning of “mutual aid.”
“When we first deployed to Mattamuskeet High School, we lost a
tread on one of our tires,” he says. They began to make
some calls to see about a replacement.
It worked out that a member of the Tyrrell County Volunteer Fire
Department owns a tire company, “64 Tires and More,” in
“Within an hour of getting our truck, they had four brand new
tires on. They gave us the tires and rims at cost, so we decided
to replace all six. They really just took care of us,”
All of the firefighters recount the experience as positive, both in giving their time and gaining new experiences.
“I met a lot of people and made of lot of friends, both locally
and other places,” Mitchell reflects. “I was glad to
A special thank you to all of the firefighters in Buxton and Salvo
who gave time to serve at the Evans Road Fire
Buxton Volunteer Fire Department, Station 44: Joey Blink, Scott Busbey,
David Carter, Douglas Dorris, Jeffrey Kieffer, Carroll Midgett, Bob
Norwood, John Rice, Clyde Stowe, Jarvis Williams, and Ji Williams.
information on the fire, including announcements, photos and maps can
be found by visiting the Inciweb (http://inciweb.org/state/34) Web site.
Salvo Volunteer Fire Department, Station 48: Vinny Indolini, Greg
Mitchell, Nick Morris, Dan Runyan, Jim Spielberger and Gene Stoehl.
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