Fire In The Poconos

More than 8,000 acres are burning or have burned over in the Poconos in the past week. Buildings have been destroyed and a few injuries have been reported. This is not the first time this area has burned. There has been a history of devastating fires in the area.

One of the first accounts of devastation in the area of today’s fires appeared in The Cambria Freeman on May 25, 1872.

A Port Jervis special of the 18th, before the rains a fire, covering a territory of seven miles in extent, is sweeping over some of the best land in that section. Twelve large steam saw mills have been destroyed, and many dwelling houses and the lumber camps of Dodge & Meigs, containing several million feet of lumber, burned. The inmates of the cabins narrowly escaped with their lives. At Wagnohurst’s, Callahan’s and Dowling’s settlements nothing is left but charred and smoking ruins. Dozens of families were compelled to flee for their lives. A quarter of a million of dollars will not pay the losses in this section. The land of the Blooming Grove Park Association was swept over, and large numbers of wild game destroyed. In Wayne county, Pa., fires compelled the suspension of coal transportation over the Delaware and Hudson Canal Company’s Railroad, lead ins from the mine in Honesdale. The lumber villages of Carter & Gould have been almost totally destroyed, only three houses remaining in the two places.

The Carbon Advocate noted on May 17, 1879 that large fires were raging across the Pocono region and that, “The burned district covers 7000 acres.”

On April 30, 1908, the Bloomsburg Columbian reported a fire that by today’s standards the fire in Monroe County would make the national news.

A fierce forest fire raged on the Pocono mountains, in Monroe county, on Thursday, running along the crest of the mountain for twenty miles. At several points the flames ran down the mountain side, threatening the fences and homes of residents and many joined in fighting the fire

On May 15, 1916 the Harrisburg Telegraph, ran this account of forest fires in the Pocono Mountains.

The Pocono mountains have been entertaining forest fires which were finally extinguished after damaging timberland over an area of 50 square miles.

Fifty square miles is a lot of territory and if those estimates are correct the fires in the Poconos covered 32,000 acres. It was unclear from the report how many fires were burning.

On April 24, 1925 the Scranton Republican reported a large fire in the Poconos that consumed over 2,000 acres.

On May 11, 1926 a 7,000 acre blaze burned near Long Pond in the Poconos.

Over the weekend of May 10 – 11, 1930 it was estimated that 15,000 acres burned in the region. One fire near Mount Pocono in Monroe County burned more than 3,000 acres.

On April 16, 1950 fire broke out in Monroe County in the area designated as a “non-protection area.” In 1942 a 20,000 acre area of western Monroe and eastern Carbon county had been designated a “non-protection area” meaning that because of local attitudes and a severe wildfire problem, the state would not commit resources to fighting fires in the area. The designation would last until 1957. The fire of April 16, 1950 was about five miles north of Effort between Long Pond and Route 115.

In early May a fire burned along Route 115 In Monroe County. A report in the Pocono Record mentions that

…The firemen, working under the direction of Research Forester Eugene McNamara, backfired around the blaze.

This was the first mention in the press of a man who would have an impact on forest fire protection in Pennsylvania for the remainder of the twentieth century and beyond.

On May 2, 1951 two separate fires in the Poconos burned more than 1000 acres. The fires were in a triangle from Henryville to Cresco to Mount Pocono. The fires were driven by high winds. According to the Pocono Record of May 3, 1951

…Huge balls of black smoke billowed up and then spread, and some of the flames went as high as 150 feet as the ground fire ripped into the trees and hit the tops of the tall pines and other evergreens in the path…

On April 27, 1952, another fire broke out near Big Pocono in the “unprotected land” that consumed 3,000 acres

On May 5, 1955 a 2,500 acre fire broke out near the newly created Big Pocono State Park in Monroe County. The fire which took 27 hours to contain was driven by high shifting winds blowing across the mountaintop.

By May 8, 1957 fire conditions were at their worst. The fire grew to 2,000 acres on Effort Mountain in Monroe County and burned part of the recently created Delaware Lehigh Experimental Forest. In the area there were also sixteen other fires burning at the same time, most caused by the railroad.

The Chief Fire Warden summed up the situation when he noted the trouble spots in Pennsylvania. H.B. Rowland listed these areas where fires are the worst in Pennsylvania: Near Pottsville, the Long Pond Area of the Poconos, the Mont Alto-Caledonia region and near Clearfield.

It was estimated that 6,000 acres had burned in Monroe County and another 2,000 acres had burned in Carbon County during the first week of May, 1957.

Many of the fires were intentionally set. Fire wardens and state officials were on edge.

….In the Shenandoah area of Schuylkill County, forest wardens continued to search for an arsonist. District Forester Joseph Matlavage said he ordered the wardens to carry guns. A motorist earlier told officials he had seen a man set two fires near a mountain road…..

Today an order of that type would be almost unthinkable. Despite light rains the danger of fires persisted and fires, either intentionally set, or set accidentally continued to plague the state. The Poconos continued to burn and another fire that was contained to 400 acres broke out between Camp Hugh Beaver and Camp Tamiment in Monroe County. The fire was set as a series of small fires “in a strip about a mile long.” Fuseees, that had been used to start the fires, were discovered at the scene of the fires. At last spring rains and the greening of the forest ended the fire danger.

As is often the case with the founding of fire companies, the major blazes in the area during the spring, prompted the citizens of the area to discuss the formation of a fire company in Tunkhannock Township, in Monroe County. On July 31, 1957 a meeting was held to discuss formation of a fire company to protect the township. The meeting was held at the Community Hall in Long Pond and was sponsored by the Long Pond Community Association.

Three salient points were discussed. They included establishment of a volunteer fire company and cooperation with the PDF&W; abolition of the non-protected areas in the township; and construction of fire lanes in the large wooded tracts of the township. The meeting was attended by H.B. Rowland, E.C. Pyle and Eugene McNamara from the PDF&W. It was noted at the meeting that the non-protected area had been reduced from approximately 20,000 acres to 11,000 acres.   In 1958 the Tunkhannock Township Volunteer Fire Company was officially chartered, and the unprotected designation for the area was done away with by the PDF&W.

 

Sproul State Forest Fire Towers

Recently while sorting materials at the Pennsylvania Forest Fire Discover Center – now known as the Pennsylvania Forest Heritage Association – the Protection Plan for the Sproul District – 1964 was found.   Several photographs of fire towers and cabins were found in the report. It should be noted that the report though dated 1964 was merely and update to a report prepared in 1940. Some things that had changed were simply lined out in the report and fire statistics were handwritten on the pages of the bound document. Here are the photographs from the report. All are dated 1940.

Tower_CoffinRock1940 (479x800)

Tower_CoffinRockCabin1940 (800x489)

Coffin Rock Tower, Noyes, Township, Clinton County, Coffin Rock Knob.  Sixty feet, steel Aermotor. Ground elevation of 2325 FASL. Completed Summer, 1921 by Forest H. Dutlinger, District Forester. In the spring of 1939 the height of the tower was increased by the insertion of two thirteen foot sections making the total height 86 feet. Guy wires were attached to the four corners at that time. The stone cabin was constructed in 1934 by CCC labor. A back porch was added in 1936. The cabin was leased to Dave Erickson in 1943 and the following year was leased to J.W. Gullborg which continued at least through 1956.

Tower_Keating1940 (481x800)Tower_KeatingCabinFront1940 (800x499)

Keating Tower, West Keating Township, Clinton County, McCormick Point, Eighty feet, steel, McClintock Marshall Corp. On private land leased to the state. Ground elevation 1700 FASL. Completed in Fall of 1935 by Charles Hogeland, District Forester. The log cabin was constructed by CCC labor in 1935. The garage was completed in 1940

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tower_KeatingCabinRear1940 (800x499)

Tower_KeatingCabinGarage1940 (800x499)

Tower_SnowShoe1940 (479x800)

 

Snow Shoe Tower, Snow Shoe Township, Centre County. On private land leased to the state. Sixty feet, steel Aermotor. Ground elevation 1820 FASL. Completed Summer, 1921 by Forest H. Dutlinger, District Forester.

 

 

 

Tower_Tamarack1940 (481x800)

 

Tamarack Tower, Leidy Township, Clinton County. Sixty feet, steel, Aermotor. Ground elevation 2200 FASL. Built in 1920 by H.A. Spangler, District Forester. On private land leased to the state. NYPEN Corp. was landowner. The stone cabin was constructed in 1934 by CCC labor.

 

 

 

Tower_TamarackCabin1940 (800x501)

Tower_Whetham1940 (479x800)

Tower_WhethamCabinFront1940 (800x504)

Whetham Tower, Gallagher Township, Clinton County, Sugar Camp Ridge. Sixty Feet, Blaw-Knox. Ground elevation 2240 FASL. Completed Summer, 1923 by Forest H. Dutlinger, District Forester. On private land leased to the state. Completed Summer, 1923 by Forest H. Dutlinger, District Forester. The stone cabin was constructed in 1934 by CCC labor.

Tower_WhethamCabinRear1940 (800x504)

Tower_WhethamCabinGarage1940 (800x504)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

A Look at April 1890

With April as dry as it has been in some time and Red Flag warnings  posted in the region, it is interesting to take a look back at past April wildfires. One particular fire caught my eye.

It was noted in the Pittsburg Dispatch on April 24, 1890 that a wildfire just across the Pennsylvania line in New York could affect the “pest house” which at the time was where people with contagious diseases such as small pox were kept during their illness. The pest house in Elmira was close to a powder magazine and a brewery. Interesting location for all three establishments.

NEARING A POWDER MAGAZINE

Forest Fires Doing Great Damage in New York and on the Border.

SPECIAL TELEGRAM TO THE DISPATCH

 Elmira. N. Y., April 23, Forest fires on the hills surrounding this city have caused consternation among farmers, and they are out in force fighting flames. The damage so far has been to fences and trees, but tonight there is considerable alarm because the fire is near the powder house, which is close to the city pest house and Rock Spring brewery, and about one and a half miles from Elmira.

 Much damage is reported on the line of the Addison and Northern Pennsylvania Railway, particularly near Garnee[sic], Pa., a small station north of Gaines. At this point fire has been raging three days and now surrounds the big trestle of the Addison and Northern Pennsylvania road. Millions of feet of logs and lumber and hundreds of cords of bark left in the woods for want of snow to move them last winter have been burned. The whole neighborhood is out in force fighting fire.

Today it is hard to comprehend the magnitude of wild fires that burned across Pennsylvania in the 19th century. The methods of fire control were primitive by today’s standards, and fire was often looked on as an act of God. Often the fires were just left to burn out. But there was some effort put forth when it burned near the brewery.