Originally created 05/20/00

Drought fuels Aiken brush fire



LANGLEY - Drought and breezy conditions Friday aided a small brush fire - which authorities say they fear might have been set deliberately - to char nearly 30 acres of brush and trees.

Maj. Jody Rowland, chief deputy of the Aiken County Sheriff's Office, said the fire began small but whipped out of control in a matter of seconds. Flying sparks ignited a series of new fires as well.

By the time firemen arrived, they had multiple brush fires to contend with.

"A 30 mph wind came up, and that little trickle of fire turned into a 40-foot wall," Maj. Rowland said.

The cause of the fire is still unknown, but authorities are investigating reports that two juveniles were involved.

Lt. William Randall of the Langley Volunteer Fire Department led the response to the wooded area between Hillman and Legion roads.

"We came very close to losing some structures," he said. "We are very fortunate."

There were no injuries, and the damage was confined to wooded areas.

About 14 residents were asked to evacuate, but most chose to stay and protect their homes.

Homeowner Jerry Burkett helped direct spectator traffic as firefighters and law enforcement officials from more than a dozen departments battled the blaze that threatened his neighborhood.

"I thought the fire department did a really good job," he said.

Thick smoke billowed as far as downtown Aiken, causing business owners to go outside to see what was happening.

Maj. Rowland said Friday's fires were worse than they might have been because conditions were so dry.

"We are only in the third week of May, and we are already in a drought condition," he said. "The most caution you can use when you're in the woods is called for."

Reach Lisa Lohr at (803) 279-6895 or scbureau@augustachronicle.com.