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