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.