Boats stored near the tree line spread flames to Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge. Photo courtesy of MD State Fire Marshal

Trailered Boats Burn, Sparking Blackwater NWR Wildland Fire

Three boats stored on trailers caught fire on a wooded property in Dorchester County, causing flames to spread to a section of Blackwater National Wildlife Refuge (NWR).

Thankfully, no one was injured and the fire was contained to just about one acre of the 28,000-acre Blackwater NWR. The fire came during a particularly dry spell in Maryland, making firefighters’ jobs even more important.

The Taylors Island Volunteer Fire Company responded to reports of fire Smithville Road on Taylors Island, which runs between a Slaughter Creek tributary and the national wildlife refuge, just after 3 a.m. on Sunday morning.

The Office of the Maryland State Fire Marshal says the three boats were on property owned by Baltimore Rod and Gun Club LLC. An occupant first discovered the fire.

The fire marshal’s office says the fire originated in the side console of the boat farthest to the right. Ten firefighters responded to the one-alarm fire, and it took 40 minutes to get under control. Damage is estimated at $50,000.

The fire spread from the lot to the national wildlife refuge, causing an accidental wildland fire, burning brush and vegetation over a one-acre area.

The Maryland Forest Service responded with two fire engines, two utility task vehicles and a dozer. Blackwater NWR crew also responded with an engine. Chris Smith, the Maryland Forest Service Fire Manager for Eastern & Central Maryland says the fire had to be secured to protect the forest floor.

“Given the dry conditions, a bulldozer was used to install a control line to ensure that the fire does not spread any further,” he explains.

The fire wasn’t very intense, Smith tells us, but given the dry conditions the fire could damage the duff layer, a layer of partly decayed organic material that accumulates on the forest floor, leading to tree floor damage. It’s clear yet whether any damage will occur from the heat.

The timing of the fire, when temperatures had dropped and relatively humidity increased, played a role in keeping the fire intensity low. Smith also credits the prompt responses of Taylor’s Island firefighters, the Maryland Forest Service and Blackwater NWR staff with helping to keep the fire from spreading further.

The state fire marshal’s office is investigation the exact cause of the boat fire.

-Meg Walburn Viviano