LUMBERTON — The cause of the 15 woodland fires Saturday near St. Pauls this weekend has not been determined, and the number of acres destroyby the blazes are still being calculated.
The fires are being investigated by the state Forest Service, said Brian Haines, its public information officer. It will be a lengthy process because all possibilities must be eliminated. But the investigator has said the fires are suspicious, Haines said.
“Arson is real hard to prove,” Haines said.
Of the 15 blazes battled starting about 10 a.m. Saturday and until about 2:30 a.m. Sunday, one torched 175 acres and another burned 52 acres. The rest were spot fires that were extinguished quickly and burned less than an acre each.
The Oakland Road fire was the biggest, said Alex Inman, Big Marsh Volunteer Fire Department chief. The wind strengthened as that fire burned and fanned it until “it got out of hand,” Inman said. All the fires were extinguished and no new fires have been reported in the area.
“Nothing else out there since Sunday,” Inman said. “Thank God.”
All of the fires burned in an area north of St. Pauls, the chief said. The Oakland Road fire was three miles from the town and being pushed away from St. Pauls by the wind. Three fires along Old Stage Road were within one-quarter mile of St. Pauls.
“In fact you could see the city limit sign from two of the fires,” Inman said.
A fire along Applewood Drive and one along Edge Grove Circle each were burning toward occupied mobile homes, he said. But firefighters extinguished the flames before any of the homes were damaged.
Two structures were destroyed by flames. One was an abandoned mobile home off Oakland Road. The other was a barn off Edge Grove Road, which was a case of a flames jumping a fire line and moving to within 30 feet of a home.
Inman set up his command post between Oakland Road and Balance Farm Road at a dirt pit operated by Danny Tew. He directed firefighting efforts from a point in the middle of the spread of fires.
“I had fire coming from my left. I had fire coming from my right and fire coming at me from the front,” Inman said.
During the height of the firefighting effort Saturday as many as 10 fire departments from Robeson, Bladen and Cumberland counties were battling flames over a 10-mile stretch of woodland. The Forest Service also dispatched all six rangers from its Robeson County station and two from Hoke County. Bulldozers, tanker engines, three airplanes and a helicopter also were on site to help extinguish the fires.
Anyone with information about Saturday’s fires is asked to call the Forest Service at 910-618-5540.
Reach T.C. Hunter by calling 910-816-1974.