Category Archives: Pennsylvania

Summer Fires

Almost every day as we turn on the TV or get the national news via computer or smartphone, we see images of and reports of wildfires devastating someplace. It can be the foothills in Southern California, the mountains in Montana, the outskirts of Phoenix and even Portugal.  Summer fires are common in many parts of the world.

In Pennsylvania summer fires are not unheard of, they are just not common. From 1940 to 2010 summer fires in June, July and August account for only 8.7% of the total number of fires and 5.6% of the total acreage from 1960 to 2010. This is according to DCNR’s records.

Summer fires in Pennsylvania are a different kind of animal. The fires are often small and not burning very fast, but they tend to burn hot and into the dry duff. They require digging out. Crews may work for days on a fire that is less than an acre.

Yet large fires can and have happened in the Keystone State. On July 14, 1886, The Forest Republican, of Tionesta reported what they described as “One of the most destructive forest fires that ever visited this section of the country” near Sheffield, Warren County had burned over the lumber camps and peeled bark of the Horton, Crary & Co. Near Brockway in Jefferson County fires were reported “in every direction” during July of 1887. In July of 1894 a fire broke out that threatened the large mill of the Medix Run Lumber Company.

On July 10, 1962, 73 persons including 59 children in 13 families were made homeless when a forest fire, believed started by children playing with matches, bore down on the village of Hawstone near the Mifflin – Juniata County line in the Lewistown Narrows section on the south side of the Juniata River. Twenty-one frame dwellings, along with a church and a mobile home were destroyed. On July 19, 1966, lightning started a forest fire on Piney Mountain in Adams County. The 25 acre blaze required bulldozers to contain.

The summer of 1993 was dry and fires continued to burn through the summer and into the fall. A fire in Laurel Run Borough, Luzerne County began on July 22nd and was not extinguished until August 8th, 18 days later. The fire covered 168 acres.

These are just a few of the thousands of fires that burned during the month of July. Despite the fact that there is now a “Flash Flood Warning” across much of the state as I write this, remember, wildfires can and do burn in the summer.

What Is Acid Mine Drainage

Since my post last week, I thought I had better clarify what Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) is. I dug through the files and came up with an essay from my days back in BAMR.  I hope this clarifies things.

Cooks Run at the confluence with Camp Run.

What is Acid Mine Drainage?  The answer is pretty simple and pretty complex.  The simple answer is Acid Mine Drainage (AMD) is any water that comes from a mine with a pH less than 7.   

Now the complex answer.  Let’s start with the water cycle.  Water falls as rain or snow from the clouds and settles on the Earth.  If it doesn’t hit a body of water it either becomes surface water or groundwater.  Surface water runs off and is the basis for flow in many freestone streams.  Think of the streams that feed Lake Erie in Pennsylvania. After a rain or snow melt event they go right up.  Then, just as quick they go back down.  These streams are very dependent on surface water. Water that doesn’t immediately flow into streams becomes groundwater.  Sometimes it has a short flow path measured in hours to go from one place to another, and sometimes it has a long flow path taking eons to go from point A to point B.  Groundwater is the base flow of our lovely little brook trout streams, the limestoners and all rivers and other bodies of water.  When the groundwater drops, down goes the stream.  Groundwater and surface water is often intercepted by man for uses such as drinking, manufacturing, agriculture and making beer and things of that ilk.  Eventually though it is evaporated or transpired by organisms and off to the atmosphere it goes to eventually fall on another part of this blue orb we call home. 

            Now we start getting technical.  When coal was formed back before there was television, video games and the WWE it was laid down as a layer of carbon bearing materials which were plants….not animals.  Over these deposits of ferns, mosses and the lichen (sorry just a little play on words and a poor one at that), minerals of various kinds were deposited.  Coarse grain mineral deposits became sandstone, fine grained deposits became shale.  Depending on the environment these minerals were dropped in determined the quality of the strata over the compressed plants that would eventually become coal.  Some areas that became inundated by the ocean were covered by deposits of limestone.  Some river bottoms had large quantities of sand and silt that was mostly leached of soluble minerals.  Brackish environments full of mud received mineral deposits near where freshwater met the oceans like the Chesapeake Bay.  These deposits were often laid down in an environment quite different from the oxygen rich environment we live in today.  The sandstone and shale piled up quite rapidly (geologically speaking) and their intense downward pressure caused the plant matter beneath to become coal. 

            Okay so after a few million years or so humans found that this black stone cropping out of the cliff burned.  Image the first person to discover that and report back to the tribe.  They probably stoned him for being a witch.  But it was too late.  The genie had been let from the bottle and the race for industrialization was on.  Fast forward now to the early 18th century.  America was a new and growing land.  Resources were plentiful and appeared to the 18th century citizen as limitless.  Lo and behold after the Europeans got established in Pennsylvania they discovered coal.  Bituminous coal was found in western Pennsylvania and Anthracite was found in the northeastern corner of the state.  As the country prospered this fuel source was exploited and the population grew causing greater demand.  Since the coal was laid in layers called seams in the Bituminous fields and veins in the Anthracite fields and the Earth had shifted and it wasn’t exactly level to begin with there was a slope to the coal that came to be called the dip.

Groundwater, remember what that is, was often associated with the coal seams as aquifers (underground water storage reservoirs) because the underclay (the primordial soil on which the plants that formed coal grew) was relatively impervious (water was unable to readily pass through it thus forming what is called an aquatard).  Well the early miners weren’t that dumb.  They found if they started on the up dip side of the coal seam the hole they were working in quickly filled with water and either they or their mule would drown.  Since mules were hard to come by they decided that if they started on the down dip side and mine up, the water would run out of the mine and away from them thus saving them from the exasperating experience of having to perform artificial respiration on a mule who neither cared nor wanted a grizzled old tobacco chewing miner breathing up his nostrils. 

            In the Anthracite region things were a bit different.  Anthracite coal is actually metamorphosed and the veins were folded and compressed.  At the bottom of the fold was the greatest concentration of coal. Of course this is also where the greatest collection of water is.  To solve this problem they dug tunnels through the mountain to drain the water away. 

            Now, remember the overlying rock.  There are mineral deposits in them called sulfides.  The most common one associated with coal is pyrite or ‘fools gold’.  Fools gold has a nasty habit.  When it is exposed to air and water it can form sulfuric acid.  The fools gold in the overburden is already exposed to water in the form of groundwater but there is no oxygen deep in the ground.  Here come the miners and what do they do.  Well, it’s sort of like opening a door on a smoldering fire in the wood stove.  Poof!   So now you have a mine generating sulfuric acid.  That is a bad thing insofar as fish are concerned.   

            If the coal was lucky enough to have a limestone layer deposited over top of it, the water leaching through the rock (henceforth called overburden) received alkalinity as it made its way to the coal.  This was enough alkalinity that it neutralized the acid.  If the overburden was sandstone or a brackish shale there would be no neutralization and the acid would flow out of the mine unabated. 

            Now I want you to think back to your high school chemistry class.  Did you ever see sulfuric acid?  Was it yellow?  Of course it wasn’t yellow!  It was clear, and if you had been paying more attention to the lab work and not your lab partner in the mini-skirt (sorry ladies this doesn’t apply to you) you might have remembered this.  Well then, just where does the orange color come from? 

            Well, in the overburden, the coal and the mine floor there are metals.  In Pennsylvania they are primarily Iron, Manganese and Aluminum.  These metals dissolve in acid.  When there are a lot of metals in solution and they are exposed to air, or they mix with water of a high pH they deposit on whatever happens to be handy, like rocks in the stream.  Iron is the most common because it comes out of pyrite.  Pyrite is made of iron and sulfur.  This iron causes the yellow, orange and reds seen in streams across Pennsylvania and has acquired the name of “Yellow Boy”.  Manganese forms a black precipitate.  Aluminum is a white precipitate.  One of the most common sources of aluminum is not from the overburden but from the mine floor where it is leached from the underclay.  Elemental sulfur is almost never found as a precipitate. 

            Iron and Manganese are not usually in and of themselves toxic.  Instead they smother the aquatic substrate and the organisms that live there by a depositional effect.  Aluminum on the other hand is deadly at low pH.  At a pH of 5.5, aluminum in concentrations of 0.5 mg/L will usually kill all fish and most macroinvertebrates.  Other metals such as cadmium, chromium, copper, zinc, and so on are also present but usually in much, much smaller amounts. 

            But it just keeps getting better.  There are microbes called “ferrobacters“ that actually enhance the production of AMD.  These little critters thrive in AMD and actually speed up the reaction. 

            Surface mining that came along around the time of World War II exposed huge quantities of pyrite bearing overburden to air and water.  Underground mines left huge voids to be exposed to air and water.  Out of the drain tunnels drilled into the anthracite mines flowed massive amounts of water.  Pennsylvania coal mines began generating and continue to generate this mixture of acid and metals and unless abated will continue on for the next millennium or so. 

Two samples of AMD are as follows. 

The Oneida #3 Discharge (Anthracite Tunnel Discharge) 

pH 4.4

Sulfates 45 mg/L

Total Iron  .141 mg/L

Manganese  .474 mg/L

Aluminum 1.950 mg/L

Acidity 16.4 mg/l

Alkalinity 0 mg/L

Flow 1399 gpm 

The Camp Run Discharge (Surface Mine Discharge in Northern

Bituminous Field) 

pH 2.4

Sulfates 1740 mg/L

Total Iron 10.92 mg/L

Manganese 46.3 mg/L

Aluminum 249 mg/L

Acidity 2768 mg/L

Alkalinity 0 mg/L

Flow 5 gpm 

Deep Mine seep into Cooks Run at Bear Hollow

            Both samples are AMD.  Both samples are capable of clearing most normal aquatic life for miles downstream.  So to answer the complex question of what is AMD?  The generally accepted answer is water with a pH less than 5, Sulfates greater than an undisturbed background sample or 50 mg/L, metals elevated beyond undisturbed background samples and acidity greater than alkalinity.  This begs a few other questions.  Is all drainage from mines acidic?  No.  Do all mines leach metals?  Probably in some form or another.  Are certain areas better to mine in than others?  Yes.  Can trout survive in mine drainage?  Yes provided the metal content is low and the pH is not severely depressed.  Does AMD only come from coal mines?  No.  Other types of mines develop it as well, particularly clay mines and in the western states metal mines. Even road cuts that expose coal seams can generate AMD. These and other questions are the subject of thousands of technical articles, books and reports.   

There is a lot of new and interesting science being developed to treat this catastrophic problem.  The Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation estimates that over 7,000 miles of streams do not meet the clean streams standards of Pennsylvania because of mining.  But things are better now than they were even just a few years ago.  Pointing fingers and saying who is to blame is pointless.  It was the energy from coal, Pennsylvania coal that provided the materials to keep us from speaking German or Japanese.  Coal is the fuel that is probably providing the electricity to your computer so that you can read this.  It has been a good energy source and will continue to be for the foreseeable future.  New technology will help it to be mined cleaner and burned cleaner. New technology will also allow for us to find ways to treat or eliminate the pernicious problem of AMD.

 

Forty Years of AMD in Cooks Run – Camp Run and Rock Ru

Me, sitting on Dad’s lap with my brother and sister fishing in Cooks Run, 1955

Cooks Run is my “home water.” I learned to fish on Cooks Run and – even though I don’t remember it – I was told I caught my first trout in Rock Run. As the story goes, I was fishing with Dad, my brother and sister, when I caught a small wild brook trout. I was so excited I ran up to the car, where Mother was reading a book. I thrust the fish into the open window of the car, at which point it decided to un-impale itself from the hook, and dropped onto my mother’s lap. That was followed by a lot of yelling screaming. Somehow the fish survived this traumatic encounter and made it back to Rock Run. However, I was the one that was hooked, and thus began my slide down the slippery slope of trout fishing.

As the years went by, I took to trout fishing with abandon. Fishing Cooks Run below Rock Run there was bigger water which made casting easier for this novice fly caster. I had a bamboo rod in my teens. Don’t get too excited, it was a Heddon, with an old single action open frame reel. I still have the reel. I gave the rod to a “friend” to refinish and re-wrap and to this day the s.o.b. claims he never got it. But I digress.

Cooks Run is one of those wonderful Pennsylvania freestone streams that tumbles out of the mountains. The insects are diverse – in the non-AMD section – and native brook trout and wild browns populate the stream along with stockies put there by the PF&BC as well as the Western Clinton County Sportsmen’s cooperative nursery.

Cooks Run above the AMD impacted area.

In 1974 things changed for the worse. Cooks Run has the unfortunate geological fate to lie just inside the Pennsylvania bituminous coal measures. Crowley Run, the largest tributary that meets Cooks Run about a mile upstream of its juncture with the West Branch of the Susquehanna River, has been polluted with AMD for well over a century. Even as a youngster I do not recall ever hearing anyone talking about fish in Crowley Run. The AMD was a result of underground mining that began just before the turn of the Twentieth Century. It was further exacerbated by surface mining in the 1950s and 1960s. Through all of that Cooks Run remained clean and full of trout. In 1974 a permit was issued for two separate sites near the headwaters of Camp Run and Rock Run at the opposite end of the watershed.

At the time the area was about as wild as any place in the Sproul State Forest. Two tracks through the woods led to the sites. Two long-abandoned log cabins were near the site. In my memory one cabin had completely fallen in and the other, though standing, was uninhabitable.

Fran Contracting of Wallaceton, Clearfield County was issued the permit to mine, against the objections of the Western Clinton County Sportsmen and several others. That part of Clinton County has high sulfur coal with high ash content. There is no alkaline material in the overburden to buffer any AMD and the coal lies atop an underclay that is high in aluminum. The underlying sandstone is largely fractured allowing groundwater to travel about anywhere. All things considered, it is a terrible place to mine coal.

Cooks Run downstream of Camp Run following the mining in 1977

By 1977 the effects of mining on the Fran sites were noted downstream. Water that percolated through the backfill on top of the mountain became acidic. As it travelled across the pit floor the acid dissolved aluminum – highly lethal to trout at low pH – dropped into the fractures and came out as base flow in Rock Run, downstream of Wildcat Hollow. To look at Rock Run where the AMD enters the untrained eye cannot tell the difference between clean water and AMD. However, when Rock Run meets Cooks Run, the pH rises allowing the aluminum to precipitate out and coat the streambed with a white precipitate. The discharge from the larger 37 acre site emanates from the toe of spoil, and pollutes Camp Run. It has a more characteristic red-orange color that most people associate with AMD. From Rock Run down, Cooks Run wasn’t just polluted, it was dead!

This was my trout water. I was incensed. I wrote letters to the Fish Commission and DER, as well as my state representatives and senators, as well as the local state reps. Only the Fish Commission responded. Paul Swanson was the Regional Law Enforcement Director for the Fish Commission, and he put me in touch with Harry “Snakey” Snodgrass, of the WCCSA.

In June of 1978 Snakey organized a meeting to be held on the stream to see the effects of AMD. It’s been a long time and I don’t remember who all were there but in addition to Snakey and me, there was Jay Johnston, WCO of PFC; Jack Paulhamus, District Forester; Harry Anderson, retired Forest Ranger; Bryce Putnam and D.R. Thompson of DER’s Bureau of Mining and Reclamation; Dave Wolf, a writer at the time for the Potter County Enterprise; and a few others.

While standing on the bridge at Camp Run, either Putnam or Thompson made the statement that the stream had been polluted before the mining. At that point someone said, “Let’s throw them in the creek!” The two mining officials ran back to their car and refused to get out for the rest of the trip.

Fran Contracting and their consultant made a few half-hearted attempts to treat the AMD but it was futile. AMD continued to pour out of the site.

In 1981 I transferred to the Bureau of Mining and Reclamation’s Hawk Run District Office. The area encompassed by office included in Clinton County. Among other things I sampled AMD across the region, reviewed permits and talked about solutions to cleaning up Cooks Run.

By then the company had given up and its bonds posted on the site were forfeited. The $11,000 was not near enough to develop a detailed plan to clean up the site or treat the discharge. The Clean Streams Law in Pennsylvania pointedly states that in the event of a discharge that does not meet effluent standards the landowner is ultimately responsible. In this case the landowner is the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as the area is in the Sproul State Forest. This nuance in the law caused the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission (now the Pennsylvania Fish and Boat Commission) to threaten to sue the Department of Environmental Resources (of which the Bureau of Forestry was then a part) for allowing a discharge of AMD to a stream. Paul Swanson, along with a young biologist for the Fish Commission named John Arway went into District Forester Butch Davey’s office and told him in very pointed language of their intent. Well that went over like finding a turd in a punchbowl.

Inter-agency warfare was not something anyone wanted, yet the PFC and DER were ready to go at it. Sampling and studies were conducted. Meetings were held. I was involved in my work as a Mining Permit & Compliance Specialist, and that is how I came to know John. Plans were brainstormed and discarded as being unfeasible, too expensive and just plain stupid. We considered passive treatment – then in its infancy, active treatment, driving the reaction to endpoint, burning the carbonaceous material in-situ and on and on.

After transferring the Harrisburg in 1985 I began to work with Joe Schueck, a hydrogeologist/engineer. At the time Joe worked for D.R. Thompson, mentioned previously who never said much about Cooks Run. Joe was into the “magic toys” of technology. Terrain conductivity, resistivity, magnetometry and whatever other tools or technology Joe could find, we ran on the site. We drilled water sampling wells and collected hundreds of samples. In addition Joe worked with Terry Ackman from the technology side of the U.S. Bureau of Mines. Terry had developed a technique where concrete grout was pumped under pressure into backfill to seal AMD producing materials. The technique looked promising. Another key player that entered the picture was Dr. Barry Scheetz, a professor in materials handling and an expert in concrete at Penn State University.

A plan was developed to map the site using the “magic toys” to determine where the AMD was being produced. Then a series of holes would be drilled into the “pods” and a concrete grout would be pumped into the ground. The grout would be made with Fluidized Bed Combustion Fly Ash (FBCFA) which would produce a low tensile strength, high compressive strength grout. Bureau of Mining and Reclamation Director, Ernie Giovannitti was enthusiastic about the project, and somehow we found money to try the experiment.

One of the vagaries of the project was people; we couldn’t hire people to do the job. Mining and construction companies were loath to take on the project because of the remoteness of the site and the questionable technique. Even though the Bureau of Abandoned Mine Reclamation (BAMR) has a construction crew, that bureau wanted no part of the experiment. We would get fluidized bed combustion fly ash from Fort Drum for free, but paid the trucking costs, we could rent any of the equipment we needed. This included concrete mixers, an auger to load the ash and various other things. The Bureau of Forestry loaned us a skid loader and water tank truck. Now all that was needed was people to operate the equipment.

With Ernie’s blessing we put out a call across DER to find volunteers to come up to Clinton County for a week and run equipment. We thought we might get ten or twenty. We got scads of volunteers from all across the department – except BAMR.

In the summer of 1992 the project began. Joe Schueck was the man in charge and I was involved as a loyal assistant. I had bitched and moaned for so long about something needing to be done that it was put up or shut time and it was time to put up.

The drilling crew, August 1992, intern Angie, Joe Schueck, Me, the drillers, Jim and Denny
Casing a hole. Me, Joe and Denny

Through August we drilled 545 holes into the backfill. The holes were cased with 4 inch PVC electrical conduit. The lowest section of conduit was perforated with ¾ inch holes to allow the grout to flow out of the casing into the backfill. At the top of the casing was a threaded coupling to allow for the hose of the grout pump to be attached.

At the end of August we were ready to begin pumping grout. The first loads of fly ash arrived on site at about 2:30 in the morning, and Joe and I were there to meet them. Talk about an “Oh shit!” moment. We were now committed.

A pod of AMD material that has been drilled and cased. The casing was cut and a fitting glued to the top. This field was called “Snake City”

Later that morning we began to pump grout. We hauled water to the site via tank truck and dumped it into a collapsible pond. Using a grain auger we loaded fly ash into the concrete mixer and added water with the help of a portable pump. The ratio was 1 part water to between 1 and 1.6 parts ash. The resulting grout slurry was about the consistency of thin pancake batter. Then we drove the mixer to the designated injection field, selected the injection hole and using a concrete pump, pumped the grout down the hole until it would not take any more grout. This was usually expressed by the grout coming out of the ground near the hole or the cap blowing off the top of the casing. Some holes took more grout than others. Some would take more than one mixer while other holes would take only a part of a mixer.

Me and Joe pumping grout.

Anyone that has ever worked with fly ash knows that it is fine and dirty. Loading the hopper of the auger at the loading site with a skid loader was dusty – sometimes to the point of blotting out the sun. When the ash was mixed with water the slurry was muddy. There was just no way around it. Through September and into October we mixed and pumped grout. As the weather turned cold we had to abandon the project for the year.

Me, Joe Vatter (a volunteer) and Joe Schueck. Joe is holding one of the perforated casings.

Through the winter we plotted and planned on how to improve the efficiency of the project. Early sample results from the monitoring wells were encouraging. In May of 1993 we re-started the project. That year we had two mixers. The one from the previous year had been worn out when we began and by the time we were finished with it, it was completely shot. The two we got in 1993 weren’t much better. We also rented a closed cab back hoe to load the ash. This was a great improvement over the open skid loader. By the end of August we had completed grouting. Altogether we pumped 2007 cubic meters of grout into the 545 holes and used another 765 cubic meters to cap overtop of some of the particularly bad or “hot” zones.

We returned to Harrisburg, convinced we had done what we could and we would see success of the project. We knew that we hadn’t been able to get all of the AMD producing backfill encapsulated but we thought we had made a significant difference. Water sample results were initially encouraging. We were certain we had made an impact on Rock Run.

Through the rest of the decades we continued to sample. The results seemed to diminish. Joe moved over to BAMR to head the AMD Division and in 1999 I too went to BAMR. A change in leadership in that bureau had begun to make it more than a “put the dirt back in the hole” organization.

Joe Schueck (in coveralls) testing one of the anoxic passive treatment bench test systems.

Passive treatment had advanced and Joe formulated a plan to use an anoxic method where sulfates in the water would be converted back to pyrite in a stable form. There’s actually a lot more to the chemical reactions but that’s the gist of it. He began the work on a large scale bench test in late 2000 and by 2002 we saw the results. It was not what we had hoped for.

By 2009 both Joe and I had retired. The sites were still producing AMD but we had tried our best to bring about positive change.

Techniques in passive and active treatment in AMD had advanced exponentially since the grout injection project. In the early 2000s BAMR had tried to collect all the water coming off the site and run it through a treatment system but because of the amount of water and the highly fractured rock, collection of all the water was deemed impossible.

Remining on the small site to the east of the injection site.
The injection site in 2017 ready to be remined.

Further investigation of the site began about 2011 and it was decided to re-mine the small site to the east and mix the backfill with limestone dust. The project began in 2012. All of our previous geotechnical work had not shown significant water on the small site, yet when excavation was begun, significant groundwater was found. Following completion of the site, water was sampled and the results were extremely encouraging.

In the spring of 2017 bids were let to re-mine the 37 acre injection site using the same technique and that brings us to today.

23rd Rivers Conservation Camp Concludes

The 23rd Pennsylvania Rivers Conservation & Fly Fishing Youth Camp concluded at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg yesterday. The students, staff and the folks at Messiah did an outstanding job in bringing about the success of the camp. For an overview of the camp please view the slide show prepared by staff member Kelsey Miller at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CFnUuw0Ppk0&t=5s

PA Rivers Conservation & Fly Fishing Youth Camp

This week is the 23rd Rivers Conservation & Fly Fishing Youth Camp. Our venue this year is at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg.

We have a great group of students and they are learning a lot. For many it is their first experience at what college life might be like. What a great group to work with.  They are learning the sciences behind coldwater conservation, doing habitat repair, learning to tie flies and so much more. As I type this they are learning advanced fishing techniques. For more information go to http://www.riverscamp.com

The Pennsylvania camp is the oldest in the nation and now there are 22 modeled after this one.

Legislation That Created the Allegheny National Forest and Strengthened Forest Fire Protection in Pennsylvania

On March 1, 1911, President Taft signed the Weeks Act into law. The Weeks Act authorized the federal government to create national forests on lands within watersheds of navigable streams or rivers. These new public lands would be used to regulate stream flow and revitalize the forests. They would be under the control of the U.S. Forest Service, but the location had to be agreed upon by federal, state, and local governing bodies. They could not be taken by condemnation, but had to come from a willing seller. This was the act that would allow for the eventual creation of the Allegheny National Forest.

Ninety-three years ago today, on June 7, 1924 the Clark-McNary Act was signed into law by President Coolidge. The federal law allowed the Secretary of Agriculture to cooperate with states for forest fire protection and prevention. It was the beginning of the cooperative arrangements between the states and federal government to share resources. In addition the act strengthened the Weeks Act passed in 1911 to allow the federal government to acquire any lands capable of producing forest products, rather than just headwaters of navigable rivers. This greatly expanded the role of the U.S. Forest Service in the East.

Two years later one of the worst fires to ever strike the ANF would happen at a place called Owls Nest.

 

Springtime and South Mountain

South Mountain on the Cumberland – Adams – Franklin County lines has been the scene of many Pennsylvania wildfires.  April 16, 2017 saw yet another fire.

https://www.facebook.com/groups/citizensfirecompany/?hc_ref=NEWSFEED

One hundred one years ago today one of the most devastating fires to hit the area was experienced.

April 20, 1915 saw another serious fire on South Mountain in Cumberland County. The fire was believed to be intentionally set, and began on the mountain near Huntsdale. Driven by high winds the fire fed on the dry fuels and rapidly spread through the forest. The fire burned to what is now Pine Grove Furnace State Park, causing thousands of dollars’ damage to summer cottages, farm buildings, ice houses and timber.

The large ice house owned by the United Ice and Coal Company, of Harrisburg, located at Laurel Dam contained 17,000 tons of ice. The building was burned away and the ice exposed. Efforts were made to save part of the ice by shipping it away in cars.  Three box cars were burned on the siding at the ice house. 

A camping party, that was composed of men from Carlisle, was compelled to fight the fire when flames when the fire surrounded their cottage. The members of the party were Postmaster Fisk Goodyear, E. S. Krononberg. M. Blumenthal, Norton Goodyear, Harry McCartney, W. H. Goodyear and I. C. Greenwood, of Carlisle, and George C. Boose, of Philadelphia, and Milton I. Hezberg, of Brooklyn. They had been camping in the mountains at the cottage owned by Mr. McCartney. 

The high wind caused the flames to spread through the woods and in several instances the fire fighters were cut off and had difficulty in getting away. Two men, named Bowman and Sowers, who lived in the area, were severely burned when the fire cut off their retreat and they were compelled to run through the flames. 

Several homes and summer cottages were burned. As the fire burned over the mountain the summer home of David Cameron, now Kings Gap Environmental Center, was endangered but the fire turned away from the estate.  The Mans family took refuge from the fire next to the lake and they were forced to drench themselves with water to survive. They escaped the conflagration with only minor burns. 

Hearing of the devastation Dr. G. G. Irwin and George B. Rickabaugh, both of Mount Hollys Springs began to head toward the fire to lend their assistance. Their automobile skidded and overturned on Hunters Run Road. Rickabaugh was pinned in the car for a time and suffered a broken leg. Irwin was thrown from the car and suffered severe cuts and bruises.

The area had been burned over in previous years, and it is almost certain that trees that died or had been injured by the earlier burns remained, providing fuel for the fires that ensued in 1915. The fire was reported to have covered 20,000 acres of state forest reserve and at least 5,000 acres of private land. The villages of Hunters Run and Toland narrowly escaped destruction as did the Holly In and houses on Hill Street in Mount Holly Springs. 

The fires were so destructive and threatening that the Wild Life League of Pennsylvania sent a request to Governor Brumbaugh to use “all available resources at the State’s command.” The letter to Governor Brumbaugh said in part: “In almost all the mountain counties and particularly along the rights of way of the various railroads of the State vast areas are being burned over, the small fire-fighting force of the Forestry Department being utterly in adequate to cope with the emergency in an effective way.” They asked the governor to assign the entire force of state police, fish and game protectors and the National Guard to firefighting duty.

The Harrisburg Telegraph, of April 22, 1915, in addition noted details about Governor Brumbaugh seeking help to quell the fires. The Governor was quoted as saying:

“I shall issue a proclamation asking citizens to go to the forests and the men in charge of fighting the fires that are doing so much damage. I have already given instructions for all game and fish wardens to co-operate with the men of the Forestry Department and took pleasure today in approving the Milliron bill, which requires game, fish and forestry wardens to enforce laws pertaining to any of those lines. I regard this as the first step in the conservation department plan which I outlined. That contemplated consolidating the departmental forces. Under existing laws I have authority to detail state police on emergency service and Major Groome will send his men to help fight fires.”

On the evening of April 22, 1915 rain began to fall throughout the state and it was especially helpful in the Cumberland Valley and South Mountain, eventually allowing firefighters to gain control of the fire and extinguish it.

Seventy-five years ago on April 16, 1942 a fire roared through the same area as this past Sunday’s fire.

On April 16, 1942, a large fire, incendiary in origin, broke out “at possibly 20 points almost simultaneously,” on South Mountain in Cumberland County. The fire rapidly covered 1000 acres near Big Flat.  The fire complex burned over 2000 acres. Students from Dickinson College, Army troops from the Carlisle Barracks, and students at Mont Alto were used to fight the blazes. The fire crowned at several places and was fed by a strong wind. The fires burned in the vicinity of Big Flat, Tumbling Run, Pigeon Roost, Gray Ridge and Dead Womans Hollow. At one point the hamlet of Wenksville was in danger.

South Mountain can be a challenge.

Trout Season – The Traditional Opening Day and Fire Danger in the Woods of Pennsylvania

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Trout season has traditionally opened on the Saturday closest to April 15th for years. Now there are other opening days – the early regional opener, mentored youth days, and probably more to come, but the traditional opening day is still a “holiday” for many of us. To paraphrase Robert Service, “It’s not so much for the trout that I’m going, as much as just going for trout.”

And traditionally the woods have been dry, and fire danger high. Oh sure most of us can remember fishing in snow or heavy rain but along with trout season comes fire season.

More than a century ago Dr. Rothrock in his 1902 report noted:

I am driven to the conclusion that a very large proportion of our spring forest fires can be distinctly charged to fishermen; for it is beyond dispute the burnings begin when the trout fishing season opens, and their starting point can often be traced directly to the bank of a stream. Most of the fires started by fishermen are done through ignorance or carelessness. The smoker throws his match (still burning) to the ground and passes on. In an hour “the woods are on fire.” The same occurs on roads leading through the forest. Few people recognize. (though most think they do) just how inflammable a bed of leaves is.

On April 15, 1931, the  Associated Press put out a release with a Williamsport dateline, “The likelihood that many of them might be drafted to fight forest fires confronted trout fishermen already in the hunting camps in this part of the state ready to whip the streams at dawn tomorrow.”

1971 was another bad year.

On the advice of DER Secretary Maurice Goddard, Governor Shapp signed an order April 15, 1971 which went into effect a 5 p.m. the following day. The order placed a ban on open burning and smoking in and within 200 feet of any woodlands of the Commonwealth. The ban went into effect on the eve of the opening day of trout season, a time of year when thousands would be along the streams and in the forest.

1976 was another spring that lingers in the memories of firefighters in Pennsylvania. On April 15, 1976 a special fire-weather forecast issued a warning for “High forest fire danger over Pennsylvania and New Jersey.” It would be the equivalent of a “red flag day” in today’s vernacular. On April 19, 1976 a primary electric line along State Route 44 near Haneyville on the Clinton – Lycoming County line broke. The sparking line ignited the fine fuels along the road. Driven by 14 mph winds the fire spread rapidly. The area had been devastated during the past few years by oak leaf roller, oak leaf tier, and two lined chestnut borer causing extensive mortality, leaving a large amount of dead standing fuel.  At the same time crews in the Tiadaghton District were responding to a fire across Lycoming County near Wallis Run. The Haneyville Fire spread rapidly. The fire required suppression efforts of 18 Forest Fire Wardens, 392 crew members, and 26 State Forest and Park employees. The fire burned 3,330 acres before it was extinguished on April 21. The Wallis Run Fire burned 280 acres before it was extinguished and required 166 firefighters plus men and equipment from five volunteer fire companies. At that time the Haneyville Fire was the largest fire in the history of the six-year-old Department of Environmental Resources.

So go catch some trout, renew old friendships, and be careful out there.

 

100 Years Ago As America Prepared for War, Forest Fire Protection Was Still on the Minds of Many Pennsylvanians

In the spring of 1917, America was moving toward entering the war that was raging in Europe. Fires in the forests of Pennsylvania were still on the mind of many Pennsylvanian’s though. Quicker response and more fire prevention was needed. A plan was put forward by the Department of Forestry. George Wirt was making arrangements to have mailmen become fire wardens. The idea was, they were out during the day at a time when fires were most likely to begin and if they spotted a fire they were to report it to the nearest fire warden or fire tower.

George Wirt was adept at using the press and sent out press releases and made speeches wherever and whenever he could. Prepared by Wirt, but sent to the press under Commissioner Conklin’s name the press releases reminded people to not burn on dry windy days, use spark arrestors on engines, break matches and make sure the cigarette or cigar is out before discarding it.

…No fire warden system or method of protection can reform the born fool who forgets his fire,” says the commissioner. “His change of heart must come from within. Pure carelessness caused the burning of 160,000 acres of forest last year in Pennsylvania, and over 300,000 acres in 1915….

The press release in its entirety appeared in the McKean Democrat on April 5, 1917. It is interesting in that it appeared on the front page, in the fifth column from the left at the top of the page. In the sixth column was the announcement of President Wilson asking for a declaration of war for the United States to enter into World War I. The column on forestry takes up 95% of the column length (the very bottom of the column is an ad for the sale of two young horses by A. VanSickle of Smethport). Exclusive of the headline which took up 17% of the column, the text relating to what would become known as “The War to End All Wars,” occupied only 56% of the column, followed by a listing of Easter Sunday services in the Methodist Church and a want ad for boys at the Barney–Bond bottle factory in Smethport.  In a two column article to the left of the forestry column under a black and white line drawing of the American flag, with the headline of “ATTENTION SONS OF BUCKTAILS!” is a call for the re-formation of the Bucktail Regiment by the sons and grandsons of those who volunteered and fought as the Bucktail Regiment in the Civil War.


To read the entire article and newspaper you can go to the Smethport newspaper archives at: https://smethport.newspaperarchive.com/  The site is free and available to the public.