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Monday, May 2, 2016

Extreme weather

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Photo by Jody Shackelford
A section of roof from Orr's Lumber on the square in Salem was relocated by high winds Jan. 29, to the roof of Anna Beth Larue's Ford Explorer which sat behind the office of Hughes, Welch and Milligan. The nearby power pole was taken down with the roof section and the resulting power surge melted the building's electrical box.

With a wild fire closing in on two homes in Wheeling, Salem Fire Chief Heath Everett takes action to protect the dwellings by covering the ground and houses themselves with flame retardant foam.

Officials with the Arkansas Forestry Service worked quickly in cooperation with the Salem Fire Department to stop a fast moving fire from causing damage to nearby residences. According to Salem Fire Chief Heath Everett the Arkansas Forestry Service used bulldozers to cut fire lines between the fire and unaffected areas.

Jan. 29 introduced the area to a fire storm and near hurricane force winds. With fires scattered across Fulton County, the fire departments were spread thin. According to authorities the majority of fires were due to the high winds causing power lines to make contact which resulted in an arc. The sparks from the lines fell onto the dry grass in some cases.

Salem Fire Chief Heath Everett and crewmen, responded to a wild fire off Highway 9 near Wheeling.

"We were paged at 3 p.m. to go to a fire out in Wheeling. From the information I gathered, a family had a fire in their burn pit about three days ago and this wind that we had, with 60 to 70 mph gusts stirred the fire back up and blew a plastic table into it," Everett said. "That table must have found a hot coal and started burning, that then lead to our fire."

"The fire started up a ravine and threatened some houses about a quarter mile up the way from where it started. So, when we got on scene we were worried about the fire running real hard in that wind. We laid down a foam barrier around the houses just in case the fire did jump the fire lines," Everett said.

"We did evacuate both families from both of the houses. That was one of the few times I have ever had to evacuate somebody because of a fire, but in that wind I was honestly a little spooked," he said.

"I walked down about 500 yards into the woods from the house to see where the fire was coming from. I was standing on one side of this pond away from the fire, then fire hit some pine needles and blew up onto my side of the pond and I took off back up the hill and got out of the way because I didn't want to be a casualty. That thing came up over that pond bank pretty quick," Everett said.

"I got back to the trucks and had everyone get them turned to where we could all get out if we couldn't get the fire stopped. I didn't want none of our firemen or our equipment trapped in there," he said.

Photo by Jody Shackelford
"When the forestry got there, they were able to get some big fire lines set and they went on and got to the head of the fire and actually pushed up big dirt mounds. The forestry stopped it basically with big chunks of dirt; got it to where it just couldn't burn. They scrapped all the pine needles and everything up to where it just burned itself out," Everett said.

In addition, a fire near Glencoe claimed the $10,000 race car of Willie Sexton, along with other property on his land. According to Sexton, like the Wheeling fire, the Glencoe fire was thought to have been started by the strong wind reigniting days old coals. Along with the Arkansas Forestry Service, Agnos-Glencoe-Heart Fire Chief Gerald Hollaway and Fireman Rodman Seidle worked to contain the fire.

The Camp Fire Department responded to several fires in their area. The first fire was on North Camp Creek Road. According to Camp Fire Chief John Davis a large red oak tree fell on power lines and caused a blaze.

"We had two trucks up there. We had one crew go around and put the fire out. We had to wait for the North Arkansas Electric Cooperative to get there to cut the tree out of the road. We had a school bus waiting to come through. We got it to where the bus could come on through, then myself and Pat O'Brien assisted with putting out the fire the power lines had started," Camp Fire Chief John Davis said.

"We had another fire on Oak Wood Trail. Rodney Sutherland took a pumper truck up there and assisted the forestry service," he said. "Everybody really did a fine job and got everything looking in good shape."

Izard County found itself under a plague of flames as well. County fire departments worked to contain a large fire near Larkin Road. Authorities estimate nearly 250 acres were consumed by the fire.

The powerful wind that stirred up area fires also caused massive structure damage to buildings as well as several vehicles.

In Oxford, the fierce wind was able to completely remove the roof from the Cougar One Stop & Garage gas station and project it across the road, slamming the roof into parked cars and the Oxford Municipal Building.

"It was so windy it was just awful," said Oxford Municipal Building secretary Bonnie Moss. "It just kept getting stronger it seemed like, blowing things everywhere. All the sudden that thing came over and hit the building. The wind moved the city truck over about three feet and picked it up someway or another and put it on top of the debris of the roof. It is a thousand wonders someone didn't get killed with that thing flying across here," Moss said.

At Hughes, Welch and Milligan on the Square in Salem, a large section of metal roof from the lumber yard was ripped off by the massive gusts and thrown on to a Ford Explorer owned by Anna Beth Larue.

The roof section brought down power lines and a power poll that crushed the windshield of the Explorer, in addition to shrouding the vehicle in sheets of twisted metal.

According to employees, the downed power lines caused a surge that destroyed the inside lights, appliances such as the microwave and melted components in the building's electrical box.

"It was a wild day, but nothing we can't get fixed," Catherine Butler said.

According to Butler the damage to her own vehicle, a 2007 Chrysler Town and Country, was assessed at $3,000.

Other wind damage seen around the Salem Square were pieces of the Federal Building's roof scattered in the parking lot of the Sheriff's Department and beyond.

8,500 North Arkansas Electric Cooperative customers were without power, according to CEO Mel Coleman. Crews worked quickly to restore the power and by 10 p.m., most customers had their power restored, Coleman said.

The National Weather Service in Little Rock said a strong cold front from the plains moved in mid-afternoon and caused a northwest wind shift. Wind speeds of 30 to 40 mph were prevalent in the area with gusts exceeding 50 mph. Locally, gusts were reported to be as high as 70 mph.

According to the National Hurricane Center level one hurricane force winds start at 74 mph.

The cold front caused a drop in temperature as much as 40 degrees in some areas, according to the NWS.

Following the unusual weather, Thursday found the area covered in a blanket of snow that caused most area schools to close.

The storm system that brought the frozen precipitation originated in Texas and moved east. Ahead of the system, clouds increased and caused expansive precipitation to fall on much of the state.

The total amount of snowfall was more then four inches in some places near the Missouri line.

The snow fall in the northern part of Arkansas was heavy compared to the wintery mix that fell in the central portion during the morning and early afternoon, the NWS said.

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