The sincere efforts of a little girl illustrate the community’s support for fire crews battling what has been referred to as the Tuggle’s Gap Fire wildfire better than any words Scottie Cassell could use.
As he faced the Patrick County Board of Supervisors at its Nov. 20 meeting, Cassell gently placed a plastic sandwich bag, filled with a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, on the stand in front of him.
Cassell, the county’s director of Emergency Management Services, explained that a church group in Fancy Gap held a drive to collect food and other items to help support the fire and rescue personnel.
Cassell said he was told that a “little bitty girl,” who “doesn’t talk” much due to a speech impediment, was among those who wanted to help. “She’d come in” to the drive “carrying this little sandwich bag, and all she could muster up was, ‘Help firefighter.’”
Cassell said he kept the sandwich in the command center as a reminder of what the community means to him and others involved in the firefighting efforts.
The community, he said, stepped up to ensure fire crews had no unmet needs. If there was a need, Nick Bieneck, owner of Tuggle’s Gap Roadside Inn, put out a call for it on the Inn’s Facebook page.
“We had more than enough show up. To the point I think the administration called me when we put out (a call for) Tylenol and stuff for the sore aches and joints,” Cassell said, adding he was told those products sold out in many stores.
“That’s what our community is,” he said and noted that some people came from as far away as Greensboro, N.C. to donate to firefighters who were working to control a wildfire that burgeoned to nearly 1,200 acres.
The blaze began October 30 with a downed powerline, Cassell said.
“A tree blew across a powerline in the mountains a” very difficult “terrain to get to. The first fire burned for three days. We contained it to 36 acres,” he said.
Cassell said the Department of Forestry (DOF) deemed the fire to be out, but the weather conditions turned, and the fire reignited. In its efforts to try and control the fire again, the DOF and National Forestry team lost control of the fire.
“It ended up burning almost 1,200 acres before we could get ahead of it and stop it,” Cassell said.
There were 28 homes in the affected areas, and none were damaged, Cassell said, adding there also were no injuries reported.
During an initial assessment, Cassell said one of the houses was in the endangered area and deemed it unsavable.
But that determination was refused, and “due to efforts of the Forestry Department and the volunteers, they were able to save it. It was actually a cabin nestled on the edge of a cliff, so they did actually save that somehow,” Cassell said. “The volunteers refused to leave that structure” until it was safe.
The DOF brought in four dozers, he said, and residents brought in at least two personal dozers to help with the firefighting efforts.
“The community worked great hours. The Woolwine (Volunteer) Fire Department put in over 1,100 hours themselves. We’re still getting the numbers in for the total volunteer hours, but they’re looking to be in excess of 3,000 hours for the volunteers,” he said.
Cassell said the U.S. Forestry team also brought in teams from Washington state, Pennsylvania to help fight the fire and the National Guard used a Blackhawk helicopter to airdrop water on the fire.
Departments from Montgomery County, Surry County, and all the surrounding counties came to help.
“Floyd was a great help. They brought in UTVs to man the lines at night. Without that, we’d have lost a lot more land. Our original estimate was 2,700 acres, which is comparable to the last Bull Mountain Fire,” he said.
Other fires occurred in the county while the Tuggle’s Gap Fire was underway, he said.
“The Patrick Henry Fire Department in Patrick Springs had another 15 acres burned. We had another three acres out there burned in the same locality. Ararat had another 15 acres brush fire,” Cassell said, adding “that is all caused by people” doing outdoor burning.
In other matters, the board:
*Heard an update from Calvin Davis, of Enterprise Mobility, about the Enterprise Fleet.
*Recognized Jeb Stuart Rescue Squad members Troy McAdams, NREMT- Paramedic, and Shana Baliles, NREMT- Basic for their work in saving a woman’s life.
*Recognized Patrick County Schools for academic achievements.
*Heard from Kurt Bozenmayer, who thanked firefighters, rescue, and county personnel for their efforts in containing and extinguishing the Tuggle’s Gap Fire. He also congratulated the winners of the recent election.
*Heard from Galen Gilbert about the intersection of U.S. 58 and Spring Road.
*Heard from Ed Pool about solar energy.
*Heard from Vance Agee about solar energy technology.
*Approved the October 16 meeting minutes.
*Approved the bills, claims, and appropriations.
*Heard an update on the Blue Ridge Regional Library Patrick County site from Rick Ward and Garry Clifton.
*Approved a declaration of emergency/burn ban.
*Heard the county administrator’s report.
*Heard the supervisors’ reports.
*Approved closing the county offices for Friday, December 22 to give county employees the day off.
*Appointed Clyde DeLoach to the Dan River Alcohol Safety Action Program (ASAP) Board for a term expiring November 2026.