A massive smoke plume from a wildfire raging off Old Brookhaven Road Friday could be seen from Summit to Magnolia after some 200 acres burned, bringing haze as far away as McComb several miles south and clogging traffic Interstate 55 with poor visibility.
And at the same time, fire units were battling a separate blaze in the Progress area, where one landowner said some 150 acres burned over the weekend.
Firemen returned to both scorched areas on Saturday as hot spots flared up again, none seriously.
Summit and Sunny Hill volunteer fire departments, assisted by Mississippi Forestry Commission fire crews, stayed at the scene for hours as they tried to contain the flames and keep them from spreading to the interstate nearby.
In Progress, the damage was on the west side of the Magnolia-Progress Road.
Resident Hollis Alford said the fires burned some 55 acres of his son Andrew Alford’s land of 12- to 13-year-old pine stands. Alford said resident Aubrey Rimes also suffered timber losses. And Hollis said the fire also took out an abandoned home that had been overtaken by brush growth.
The wildfires occurred as much of southwest Mississippi remained under a burn ban and most of central and southern Mississippi experienced severe drought conditions.
As the Old Brookhaven Road fire burned, flames as big as the trees they engulfed spread from tree to tree, with tinder-dry foliage incinerating in seconds.
“I’ve never seen that before,” Summit volunteer firefighter Red Biggart said as he drove his truck out of a wooded area after being called back by Fire Chief Stan McMorris.
The fire was too deep in the woods for firefighters to reach it with their hoses, Biggart said.
Initially, Mississippi Forestry Commission firefighters used two bulldozers to cut fire lanes as Summit firefighters stood guard in case the blaze spread to the interstate. It didn’t take long for that to happen.
Gusty, shifting winds soon sent the flames creeping close to the highway as fire crews lined up their equipment on the shoulder and charged the woods.
Summit volunteer firefighter Randy Roberts said one of the major concerns with the fire nearing the interstate was smoke thick enough to interfere with drivers’ visibility.
“The smoke would be so heavy, it’s a danger to traffic,” he said.
As the fire spread closer to the interstate, traffic moved at a crawl in one lane.
One driver, apparently rubbernecking the situation, rear-ended another in the slow procession of traffic.
McMorris said firefighters got the call at 10:45 a.m. Friday and they were still on the scene hours later.
“It’s burning a little on the interstate but we’ve about got that put out,” he said. “The fire jumped to the southbound lane of the interstate and we were able to stop it.”
McMorris said the fire burned up to the right of way on I-55 south by the time it was under control.
Firefighters on the scene said they were told the fire began burning Thursday night.
After staying on scene until just after 5 p.m. Friday, firefighters responded to another fire around 4 p.m. Saturday in nearly the same location.
McMorris said when firefighters left the scene Friday evening, the flames were out but the area was still smoldering, which may have caused the small fire on Saturday.
“The wind probably spread it out and started this fire,” he said on the scene.
McMorris said the Saturday fire was small, especially compared to the previous day, and he didn’t think crews would have to spend as much time there.
He said firefighters were unable to determine the cause of the fire.
In Progress on Friday, fire units from all over the county worked to put out a wildfire that burned more than 150 acres in eight hours.
Fernwood Volunteer Fire Chief Chris Kyzer said crews were stationed at Magnolia- Progress Road, Emerald Stateline Road and Stateline Road in attempts to put out the wildfires.
“There are trucks from all over the county spread out,” he said on the scene. “We’re not sure if it’s the same fire.”
Kyzer said because the fire was in a wooded area, crews were having a hard time getting back to it.
“We can’t even get in there to it, but dozers are coming in to make lanes for firefighters,” he said.
Progress Volunteer Fire Chief Barry McKenzie is also on the Mississippi Forestry Commission and was one of the people making fire lanes.
He said while MFC was making fire lanes around the wildfire near Interstate 55 south in Summit, they got a call about the Progress community.
“We had crews on it starting in the afternoon from Amite and Lincoln counties,” McKenzie said.
Kyzer said firefighters were able to contain and stop the flames before any structures became involved, other than the abandoned house.
The lanes apparently helped some, but when firefighters left between 7:30 and 8 p.m., there were still stumps burning, Kyzer said.
On Saturday, crews returned to the scene after the blaze rekindled.
Progress Volunteer Fire Department received help from numerous other agencies, including Fernwood, Osyka, Sunny Hill and Washington Parish.
Kyzer said dispatchers were asking all departments in the county to send available personnel.
McKenzie said on Saturday that firefighters and the Mississippi Forestry Commission responded to the same location on Magnolia-Progress Road after flames rekindled and jumped “a couple of acres.”
McKenzie said they were able to contain the flames and clear the scene in a few hours.