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June 20, 1997     Cape Gazette
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June 20, 1997

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I I - x'ee.I . nul, - o$t 9nul, .sbiaf4 ,XTI'XXAD NqAO 10 - CAPE GAZETTE, Friday, June 20 - June 26, 1997 Mysterious fire burns more than 15 acres of Lewes Beach marsh Scientist discounts flaming meteorite as cause of blaze By Kerry Kester The State Fire Marshal's office has not determined the cause of the fire that destroyed between 15 and 20 acres of marshland along the Lewes Canal on Friday, June 13. A Lewes resident who wit- nessed the fire's onset from across the canal, however, said he saw a meteorite-like object land mo- ments before the marsh was set ablaze in what appeared to be the area near the fire. "! saw what set the fire." said Ed Connor, a Lewes retiree who lives across from where the fire occurred. "I surmise a meteor[ite]" Connor said he awoke at approximately 2:30 or 2:45 a.m., a short while before the fire was called in to 91 I. "'My wife also saw a bright light," said Connor. "We both saw light from our room. It crossed the sk3; it was coming down vertically - almost straight down. It was absolutely round, spherical like a ball. I would judge it was the size of a soccer ball. "It was on fire, flaming red. What was coming down was a perfectly round object. It was very bright and very red. I didn't see it land...l thought it went into the bay." According to Gene Shoemaker. scientist emeritus at the U.S. Geo- logical Survey in Flagstaff. Ariz. and staff member at the Lowell C.onservatory, meteorites break- ing through the atmosphere and landing on earth are not rare oc- currences. Shoemaker said it is very com- mon for people to see meteorites in the sky that still appear incan- descent. What Connor saw, he said. is a very common percep- tion. although the sightings are not unlike optical illusions. The me- teorites appear to be falling and alighting on earth, he said,-but in fact they are generally 50 or more miles away. When a meteorite touches Earth. said Shoemaker. it is not on fire. "It's certainly not glowing at the ume it reaches the ground." he said. "It's not incandescent...unless it's a very big object that would make a crater. Meteorites that fall on the ground are not very hot, and they do not start fires." Meteorites have been known to fall into houses or drop on cars, he said. They simply are no longer retaining intense heat at that point. "'By the time it reaches the ground, it's at free-fall velocity," said Shoemaker. "It is no longer producing a shock wave in the at- mosphere." Combine bearing failure sets By Dennis Forney A bearmg on a combine tarvesting barley failed on Tuesday, June 17 setting 30 acres of straw afire and threatening a farm house. a barn full of hay, and two rabbit dogs. Saving the house, the dogs and the barn, and bringing the quickly spreading fires un- der control, required eight fire departments on the scene and six other fire departments to cover theirstations. Lewes Fire Department President Lou Rickards said the field fire at Carlton Wells's farm on R. 258 near Steamboat Landing on the Broadkill River.came into Lewes at 2:03 p.m. Wells said a wheel bearing on a combine cutting barley on the farm failed, dropping hot pieces of metal into the field and starting fires in a number Hundred fought blaze The Lewes Volunteer Fire De- partment received the first alarm for the marsh fire at approximate- ly 3:15 a.m., said Lou Rickards, president of the fire company. The fire was located along the canal parallel to the Cedar Avenue and Odessa Street intersection. "'While enroute to the fire, they could see a large glow," Said Rickards; so Wally Evans, fire chief, immediately called for as- sistance from the Milton and Re- hoboth fire departments. "As the fire progressed, a dozen homes were in danger." he said. "A half dozen homes were evacuated." As the fire progressed, the Indi- an River Volunteer Fire Company from Oak Orchard joined the oth- er crews, while the Georgetown Volunteer Fire Company covered both Lewes fire stations and the Bethany Beach Volunteer Fire Company covered both Rehoboth fire stations. "The fire was totally out of con- trol until about 7:30 a.m.," said Rickards. The U.S. Coast Guard sent a cutter, and guardsmen sprayed the fire from a deck gun, while the Milton firefighters sent their marine unit to shower water on the blaze. While firefighters were battling the inferno from the canal, the Delaware State Forestry Service used bulldozers and plows on the shore, cutting fire trenches from of locations. "The wind's got things pretty dry," said Wells, "but in this case we were lucky that it blew the fire into the part of the field that had already been cut. We lost 25 to 30 acres of straw but the uncut barley was saved." Rickards said he could see smoke that looked like a mushroom cloud from his house on Rt. 24 near Love Creek when he got into his truck to respond to the blaze. "When Chief Wally Evans arrived on the scene the wind had blown embers "to three locations," said Rickards. "There were three seaparate large fires underway qehen the first Lewes engines arrived. That's when Evans put out the call for more com- panies to assist. He had to commit the first Kerry Kester photo Allen Chorman, Inc.'s cropduster sprays 100 gallons of wa- ter a second onto the burning Lewes marsh. where they loaded from their own water supply. The planes, said Chorman, have a capacity for dumping 100 gal- lons per second. Most of the runs were one plane at a time, sweep- "ing across the marshland. "In a real concentrated area, we did it in formation," he said. "That was pretty effective. The Lewes Fire Department was directing from the ground, plus we went over what we saw from smoke." Lewes firefighters remained at the scene until 9 a.m., wetting the hot spots, said Rickards, before calling it a night and returning to the fire station. However, it be- came apparent that the time away Continued on page 18 the ground. The fire was also at- tacked from the air, as AI Chor- man 'of Allen Chorman, Inc., sent three planes to spray from above. "They dropped loads of water on the areas that were not accessi- ble by foot," said Rickards. At the height of the fire, he said, over 100 firefighters and 24 pieces of equipment were warring against the wildfire. Chorman said Jeff Chorman. 18, and Stanley Seija, Jr., 50, as well as himself, made up the three-plane crew that dropped nine loads of water on the blaze. Each load, he said, contained about 350 gallons of water. Fol- lowing a load, the planes returned to Ockels Airport near Milton, barley field ablaze near .Steamboat six pieces at the scene to keeping the fire from getting at a farm house, a barn full of hay and a dog pen with two beagle puppies. The fire came to within 20 feet of the barn and the house. Bill Buckaloo and Richard Rinehart were able to refuse the puppies from the pen. I think it was an outstanding effort to save the house, the barn and the J puppies," said Rickards. "Really it was. a great effort by everyone involved." Because of the heat of the wind-driven fire, Sussex County's paramedics set up a rehabilitation ambulance at the scene and treated at least one volunteer for heat ex- haustion. Riekards noted that 100 firefighters were on the scene with 25 pieces of equipment. In addition to Lewes, volunteers responded Landing, from Milton, Rehoboth Beach, Bethany Beach, Indian River, Georgetown, Slaugh- ter Beach, and Ellendale fire departments. Millsboro covered for Lewes, Ocean City covered for Bethany Beach, Millville cov- ered for Rehoboth Beach, Milford covered for Milton, Greenwood covered for Ellen- dale, and Bridgeville covered for George- town. "Millsboro, Georgetown and Milton each had alarms in their own coverage areas while they were helping Lewes," said Rickards. "That shows you how important the back-up system is." Rickltrds noted that dry conditions con- tinue to contribute to dangerous fire oppor- tunities. Convention Continued from page 1 of Atlantic Sands, Karen Zagarian of the Rusty Rudder and Everhart. "W.e came up with a cost savings program, assistance for promoting their booths and encouragement to frequent retail shops through the Star Guest program," Ev.erhart ex- plained. The second presentation, with these incentives at the forefront. was made by all-the members of the task force to the site selection committee. The Rehoboth contingent also offered to appear before every fire company in the state, sending pre- sentation letters to each of them, "wanting them to know we love and appreciate them." They also sent letters from Sus- sex Administrator Bob Stickels and the Sussex County Conven- tion and Tourism Commission in support of keeping the conference in Rehoboth and Dewey beaches. But a number of companies didn't bother to invite the task force to make its presentation, and when the vote was taken by the executive committee last week. Kent won out by a slim margin of 68 to Rehoboth's 59 votes. (New Castle didn't put in a bid to host the conference for the next three years.) As Doyle explains it. Kent County "'came out with its glans ablazin" at the first presentation which Everhart made alone (She explained the fact that she went unaccompanied was a "break- down in communications" with other resort officials). "Carol was at a disadvantage, although she came up with some suggestions for family incentives which were good. Some of the guys were upset with some things that happened the last few years, such as disparaging comments by some merchants about the firemen and that stuck:in their minds. They felt the firefighters didn't want them there," Doyle said. He went on to explain that the DVFA's executive committee is comprised of two votes "per com-' pany, but many companies ended up with only one member when the vote was cast, due to some confusion. Kent County companies stuck together and voted for Dover, but both New Castle and Sussex County split their votes. "The site selection committee (of which he is a member) thought; New Castle would be the swing, vote, but not Sussex. "Basically, Sussex lost it for us, even though it will have an eco- nomic impact on the entire coun- ty," Doyle said. He also said that Stickels may not be able to convince the coun- cil to provide funding for the con- ference as it has in the past, since it won't be held in Sussex. Lynn Rogers, former DVFA- president, said as a Sussex County Councilman he is "depressed" by the decision and hopes someday the conference will return to Sus- sex County, with its 2,000 to 3,000 firefighters. Everhart noted that the majority of the resort's businesses "appre- ciated having them, especially the accommodations," which received tremendous economic impact, es- pecially during the week. It was just a few businesses we heard bad reports about." She praised the task force for its commitment once they were total- ly aware of just what was on the line. "They looked very hard at it and ways to address it," Everhart said. "We plan to hold another task force meeting and talk about what needs to be done to fill the void and work to accomplish that. We love "em and we want them back in 2001," she added.