Saturday, November 10, 2001

ANNAPOLIS (AP) A statewide ban on outdoor burning was put in place yesterday as brush fires continued to blaze across Maryland, fed by dry conditions and high winds.
A fire that has burned since Monday at the Aberdeen Proving Ground engulfed more than 1,100 acres, spread by winds of up to 40 mph. In Allegany County, firefighters fought a 300-acre blaze that flared up just as an earlier fire was brought under control.
There have been at least 80 fires throughout the state in the past two weeks, 21 reported on Wednesday alone, according to the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR).
The ban on burning, enacted by DNR Secretary J. Charles Fox, prohibits fires in wooded areas or within 200 feet of woodlands. Wood-fueled campfires in state forests and parks also are prohibited.
The ban will remain in place until the region gets sustained rainfall, Mr. Fox said.
Rainfall levels have been well below average across the state for at least two months, leaving fields and woods bone-dry. There have been several fires that have exceeded 100 acres the usual size of wildfires in Maryland is less than 10 acres, according to the DNR.
Fire crews dumped water from helicopters on the flames at the Aberdeen Proving Ground, where several fires started Monday on the base’s firing ranges that the military uses to test artillery shells and small weapons, said base spokesman George Mercer.
Firefighters were hampered by heavily wooded terrain and winds, Mr. Mercer said.
Base officials regularly monitor the ranges to ensure ordnance doesn’t spark fires, but the extremely dry conditions, combined with stepped-up weapons testing because of the war in Afghanistan, were the likely causes, Mr. Mercer said.
“If you send hot ammunition into an area with rich, dry fuel, that’s probably how these got started,” he said.
No one was injured and buildings were not threatened. Mr. Mercer said there was no risk of the blaze spreading beyond the base.
Firefighters in Allegany County yesterday tried to contain a second brush fire that burned more than 300 acres. The blaze near Corriganville was fought by more than 200 people overnight Thursday.
In addition, a fire that burned 350 acres this week in Westernport was in the mop-up stage yesterday.
Maryland fire officials are investigating whether an arsonist is responsible for a 20-acre fire in La Plata that burned for several hours Thursday morning, and drew fire companies from Charles, St. Mary’s and Prince George’s counties.
The fire was under control by 7 a.m. No property damage was reported.
The La Plata blaze and several that burned Tuesday in Charles County were similar to a series of arsons in the western part of the county last week, fire officials said.
“Certainly we have an arson problem in Charles County,” state forest Ranger Will Williams said. “It’s prudent to look into it. We’re putting the pieces of the puzzle together.”
Lower than average rainfall over the past several months has parched forests and fields, creating plenty of tinder for fires.
Rainfall at Baltimore-Washington International Airport has been well below average for the past two months, according to the National Weather Service. Only 1.43 inches fell in September, which is 1.98 inches lower than average for the month. October was even drier, with 0.77 inches of rain, 2.2 inches off the average October rainfall.
There isn’t much rain in the forecast, with the next seven days expected to be dry.

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