Virginia Firefighter Burned Battling Wildfire

Posted: 04-21-2008
Updated: 04-21-2008 01:43:17 PM

Courtesy of The Charlottesville Daily Progress

BUCKINGHAM COUNTY, Va. -- A Virginia Department of Forestry official who suffered extensive burns while fighting a massive brush fire in Buckingham County is expected to survive.

Steve Morris, a 43-year-old forest technician from Cumberland County, was fighting the 600-acre blaze Saturday with a bulldozer when the wind shifted and blew the flames in his direction.

"It was quick. He tried to get out of the dozer as quickly as he could, but it happened faster than you could bat an eye," said Greg Winston, the department's regional forester. "A wall of fire engulfed him."

Morris suffered third-degree burns to his hands and second-degree burns to his neck, thighs and chest. He is being treated in the intensive care unit at the University of Virginia Medical Center.

"It's probably going to be a long hard road ahead," Winston said.

Morris is a more than 20-year veteran of the forestry department. Winston called him an "all around excellent" forest technician and firefighter.

"He knew what he was doing," Winston said. "It's extremely dangerous work. There's no way of getting around that."

The brush fire was in a young pine forest located near Routes 622 and 676. It was brought under control after nine hours Saturday evening, said Kevin Flippen of Buckingham emergency services.

Winston said that such pine trees in a burning forest are like "green napalm on a stick."

"In a fire, trees like that will literally explode," he said.

All five of Buckingham's fire companies helped fight the blaze, which was completely extinguished Sunday morning. The fire threatened 36 houses in the area.

In addition to Morris, two other firefighters were treated for smoke inhalation injuries sustained in the blaze.

The fire's cause remains unknown, but forestry officials are investigating.

The last time a Virginia Department of Forestry employee was injured in a forest fire was last September in Pittsylvania County. In that case, a pine forest burned during the drought and the forestry official suffered second-degree burns to his hands.

Republished with permission of The Charlottesville Daily Progress.