Jackson County firefighters worry fires may flare up again

JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - By Trang Pham-Bui – bio | email

JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX) - "You can still see the plume of smoke that's still burning," Fontainebleau Fire Chief Mike Belton said Tuesday as he pointed to some tall pine trees.

Blackened trees, smoldering debris and the strong odor of smoke are reminders of just how intense the woods fire was at the intersection of Highway 57 and Old Spanish Trail.

"We're talking about a pine tree that's 60 to 65 feet tall, and it burned the top off the pine trees," said Belton.

The fire chief recounted those dramatic six hours firefighters spent Monday trying to control the blaze. It was actually the chief who spotted the flames, while he was heading back to the station.

"We got on scene, the fire was already raging then. It spread from Hammill Farm to here and running to the south," said Belton.

The fire was too unpredictable. The flames jumped over the new Highway 57 cut-through, then jumped again to the south side of Fountainbleau Road. Bulldozers dug lines to keep the fire from reaching five nearby subdivisions that surround the woods fire.

"I sent crews immediately to attack that fire. They were able to get a plow around it and put the fire out before it affected any homes in the Oakley subdivision," said Belton.

The fire got within 100 feet of some homes on Dickens Way. Paul Boory watched nervously as the fire crept closer to his neighborhood.

"It looked like it was moving this way fast towards our house.  It was scary, the smoke and all the ashes drifting this way. The swimming pool is full of ashes now," said Boory.

Firefighters eventually attacked the fire by funneling it to a large drainage ditch and then dousing the flames. That was too close for comfort for some construction workers who are building two new houses right across from the ditch.

"We had all our materials, our tools out here. We got all our stuff up, and we got out of here," said Sonny Milano. "We thought the house was going to catch on fire. We thought we were going to have to build it twice."

The chief says he doesn't yet know what caused the fire, but he believes it was accidental.    He also wants to remind homeowners that this is the time of year when wildfires tend to start. Low humidity and dry conditions can cause some small fires to get out of control.

To watch the whole interview with Fire Chief Belton, click HERE.

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