November 8, 2013

Ocracoke gets its long-awaited fire break


A long-sought fire break around Ocracoke Village has been in progress this week and should be completed soon.

Two firefighters from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service worked on the Marshmaster Tuesday afternoon along Ramp 72 after having completed about a mile stretch on the north side of Highway 12.

Amy Midgette and Cory Waters are cutting a 40- to 50-foot swath of about a mile and a quarter through the thick brush from the ramp sign to one of the roads off the ramp.

“We’re making it as wide as we can between the cedar trees,” Midgette said.  “We can do bushes, but not cedar trees.”

Getting a fire break cut was a goal of retired National Park Service district ranger Kenny Ballance and the Ocracoke Volunteer Fire Department for several years, and has been bird-dogged by Dick Jacoby, president of the fire company, and his wife, Janey.  

The break is meant to create a buffer should a fire start in the wilderness areas north of the village and would halt a fire’s march, protecting the village if cedar trees caught fire.

 “When cedar trees catch on fire they explode,” Janey said.  “Oak trees don’t burn as quickly.”

Dick concurred noting, “Even when cedars are green, they’re like a can of turpentine.  When they go brown it’s even worse.”

The Marshmaster is aluminum, Waters said, making it light enough to traverse a marsh, and the treads are around pontoons enabling it to float in open water.

“We use it during fires and can run it into the marsh,” Midgette said. “It can maneuver pretty good.”

She explained that when the machine runs in the marsh it pushes down the grasses to the water, which aids in fighting fires.

“We actually use this for fire fighting, prescribed burns, and projects like this,” Waters said.

Waters and Midgette have worked together for 20 years in the fire fighting division, cutting breaks and fighting blazes. Waters is a firefighter, while Midgette is an equipment operator.

“I run some of the equipment, but not as much as Amy,” he said. “She’s usually the talk of the town.”

“I like the big toys,” she said with a laugh.

Janey Jacoby was happy that the fire break is finally being done and noted that a few people attended a public meeting last week on Ocracoke with Deputy Chief Ranger Jon Anglin of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore.

“If the weather is good, they will come back next October or November,” she said. “We’re just so thankful they’re doing it.”

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