The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Thursday announced it has increased the reward for information leading to an arrest of those responsible for starting the Poconos Wildfires to $20,000.
The wildfire in Monroe and Pike counties burned 8,700 acres in late April and May and was the largest in DCNR’s history.
The cost of containing the fire has been set at $2 million for the wildfires in which more than 100 bureau personnel rotated in and out of fire scenes. They were assisted by federal, state and local emergency and other personnel, as well as a Smokey Bear Hotshot firefighting team from New Mexico.
“In June, a private landowner affected by the 16 Mile Fire increased his reward to $10,000, adding $5,000 to his already offered reward,” said Michael Kern, chief of the bureau’s Division of Forest Fire Protection. “With DCNR’s Bureau of Forestry now matching that amount, we’re hoping a reward totaling $20,000 will encourage someone to come forward with the lead or leads we need in our ongoing investigation.”
“We know both fires resulted from arson,” Kern said. “These fires put lives and property at major risk while spanning almost two weeks and burning across about 8,700 acres.”
During the first six months of 2016, wildfires burned 11,291 acres causing over $3.4 million in damage in Pennsylvania, the worse year on record since 1990.
Individuals with information are asked to contact DCNR Special Investigator Terry Smith by calling 717-362-1472; or 570-895-4000 or sending email to: firstname.lastname@example.org. Anonymous tips will also be accepted but do not qualify for the reward.
It happened in Homer Township, Potter County, 125 years ago.
The front page story of the Pittsburg Dispatch, on May 12, 1891 described the firestorm that swept through northern Pennsylvania and New York. It came to be called the “Moore’s Run Disaster” and stands as the largest forest fire disaster in Pennsylvania history. It killed six men outright and many others probably died as a result of the fire but records are difficult to find.
Coudersport, Pa., May 11. At Moore’s Run, on the pretty Sinnemahoning road, a trainload of 78 willing men, sent out from Austin Sunday night, had been fighting back the forest fire by every conceivable means. They made trenches, piled up earth and lighted back fires, but were finally obliged to retreat. The men hastily boarded the train, and started to make a run to another point, when it was found they were hemmed in by the forest fire on one side and a huge skidway of logs on the other.
It was finally decided to dash past the burning skidway, and the engineer and fireman, with faces covered with dampened cloths and their hands and arms wrapped in wool, mounted the little engine and pulled out through the wall of fire. The 75 exhausted men gathered in group on the flats for protection, or lay on their faces on the floor. As the blazing furnace of logs was approached the heat became unbearable and the smoke so blinding and stifling the men were obliged to cover their mouths with cloths.
Just opposite the millions feet of burning logs, where the heat and smoke and flame were the greatest a terrible thing occurred.
The engineer had forgotten that such great heat would spread the rails, and he pulled the throttle wider, in the hope of sooner escaping from a torment of heat and smoke. Then there was a lurch, an ominous heaving, and a shriek of despair as the train toppled over into the mass of fire beneath.
A scene ensued never to be forgotten by those who escaped, and every man who got away will bear to his grave a mark of that awful moment. The cars caught fire like so many paper playthings, and the men within, half-blinded, and scarcely realizing anything, except that they wore being slowly roasted to death, struggled fearfully to regain the track, were safety lay, for a time at least. Those uninjured from the fall, and only smarting from the pain of intense heat, bravely used their burned and blackened hands to aid their more unfortunate fellows. Enough is known of the scene that followed the hurling of the struggling mass of men into the furnace of flame to say its like had never occurred before.
Superintendent Ranger, of the Sinnemahoning Valley road, was in charge of the relief train, and had worked the hardest of all to save the properties of others. When the train ditched and rolled over so suddenly he must have been injured so as to be unable to help himself, and, owing to smoke and panic, he was not found until too late jammed in the wreck. He had evidently slowly burned to death.
At this time it is known that six others also miserably perished at once or died soon after, and 30 others of the party were badly burned, many probably fatally, owing to the fact that they inhaled the flames that seemed to fairly spring into their faces. Seven others of the party are missing, and their fate is unknown, though they are likely in the charred wood of the logs or train. Relief parties started for the scene as soon as the fearful news spread, many male relatives of the men injured insisting on accompanying the train, though they will hardly be able to reach the place of the wreck unless the fires have burned themselves out. Owing to the great devastation done to everything in the way of the fire, communication is badly interrupted and it is impossible to learn the names of the men burned or those still missing.
As to the damage, it is known 40,000,000 of hemlock logs and timber, and 25.000 cords of valuable bark has already been destroyed, and the fires are raging without any appreciable diminution. This evening the people are praying for rain, as it seems nothing but a drenching will quench the flames that have grown so fierce they must either be extinguished by the floods of heaven or burn out for lack of material, A million beacon lights seem to be burning from every mountain and hillside, and the air is so oppressive many workers faint from exhaustion, and are dragged away from a flame that has done nothing as yet but steadily advance.
Tonight the pretty little lumber and farming towns of Austin, Costello, Galeton and Moore’s Run are on the verge of a panic, two especially being threatened with annihilation from fires that seem to form an impenetrable wall on every side. For several days past the skies have been lighted up with fires apparently in every direction, but little fears were entertained by people living in the towns, as those then threatened and in danger were farmers in the country districts or lumber camps in the midst of the blazing forests. In spite of every effort however, the flames crept steadily in snaky lines of smoke and flame toward the helpless towns, until it was seen the people must fight back the flames or have their very houses burned down over their heads.
A dispatch from Austin says: Latest advices from the terrible accident and burning on the Sinnemahoning Valley, near Moore’s Run, seem to confirm the first reports, though there is no telegraphic communication as yet.
The body of Superintendent Badger has been found, burned to a crisp. Thirty-five people are injured, 16 being dangerously burned. The entire party would have perished had they not thrown themselves into a creek running along the road. Several are missing, and facts are anxiously awaited here. The engine and entire train was burned. The fires have been raging here 48 hours, and 12 miles of lumber territory have already been burned, the Goodyear Bros., of Buffalo, being the principal losers.
The number of papers that covered the Moores Run disaster would be the equivalent of having all the major television news networks covering the story.
Though there would be other large fires in Pennsylvania, it would be 47 years before wildfire would claim that many lives in Pennsylvania, ironically in a location not far away from the Moores Run tragedy.