While Old Man Winter may have made Greene County residents know that it’s not quite spring, dumping an inch or two of snow Monday morning, the March 2-3 wind storm that sparked fires and took out electrical power is still fresh on people’s minds.
That’s especially true for Stanardsville Volunteer Fire Chief Dusty Clay, who last week talked about the stress the storm put on his and other fire crews around the region.
“It was just a busy, busy 48 hours,” he said late last week at the firehouse that still smelled of residual smoke from the emergency vehicles.
Clay said Stanardsville, Ruckersville and Dyke volunteer fire departments covered about 70 calls for service each.
“We don’t normally run that in month or month and a half,” he said. “To run that many [calls] in a 48-hour period was a lot on the guys.”
Clay said the calls first stated coming for the Ruckersville Volunteer Fire Co. around midnight Friday, March 2. About two hours later, Stanardsville crews were called to handle “downed trees, trees on power lines, power lines down.
“Then we started getting calls for wrecks,” he added. “[Stanardsville] and Truck 27 from Ruckersville cut a lady out of a car up [U.S. 33] on the mountain.
“Then we started running to reported house fires,” Clay said. “That was all day Friday and didn’t slow down at all.”
Around 8 a.m. Saturday, Stanardsville crews were called out to a house fire that started in the basement and eventually consumed the first and second floors.
After getting that fire under control, there was no time to rest as downed power lines created a series of brush fires along Matties Run Road in western Greene County.
When crews got there, “they were like, ‘um, this is more than we can handle,’” Clay said of the fire crews on the scene.
To make matters worse, the terrain along the Blue Ridge Mountains didn’t allow for fire trucks to get in, so crews had to haul in their own equipment and create a fire line.
By the time it was over, 50 to 60 firefighters from Stanardsville, Earlysville, Madison, Barboursville, Gordonsville, Orange, Elkton, Rockingham and Shenandoah were on the scene of the 20-acre fire. “Harrisonburg and Rockingham [even] sent their drone team to help us kind of see how big it was,” Clay said.
It took nearly five hours alone to fight that blaze, which at one point was three separate fires, and ended up ruining two sets of gear valued around $2,700 a piece.
In addition, a “very expensive” thermal-imaging camera was destroyed.
“It adds up,” Clay said. “That’s our fundraising money. That’s taxpayers’ dollars.”
Getting back to the firehouse didn’t provide any rest. “The two main engines we have here were basically out of service until we could get stuff cleaned and get back [in service],” Clay said. “With the air packs, they take forever to wash and dry. They’re constantly washing them, they have to hang them up to dry ... you have to scrub it off real good and leave it up to dry.”
Clay thanked Greene County Emergency Management Director Melissa Meador for helping direct crews and equipment, and providing food and water to returning firefighters.
“Everything I asked for when we were on the calls, she got it for us,” Clay said.
Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency that Friday due to the severe weather that has affected people across the Commonwealth.
Northam said the order is designed to mitigate any damage caused by high winds and to streamline the process to provide assistance to impacted communities.
“We are still compiling numbers as we speak,” Meador said this week. “We had major damage to one residential structure, shingle issues at one county facility, siding issues at one multi-family dwelling, damage to two school buses, roof issue at one school, debris management issues at the landfill, and personnel costs associated with the event.
“We have submitted cost estimates to the Virginia Department of Emergency Management for consideration by the Governor’s Office,” she said. “Anytime we declare a local emergency, we submit projected costs incurred from the event.”
To report damage as a direct result of the wind event, contact (434) 985-5232 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.