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*Officials trace park fire's origin to wood stove ashes

By M.K. Luther -- mkluther@nvdaily.com

FRONT ROYAL -- Wood stove ashes that were improperly disposed of helped to spark one of the largest fires in Warren County's history, according to fire officials.

The more than 2,000-acre fire started Saturday morning at privately owned property in Browntown and was spread by high winds into the park, ultimately forcing the Skyline Drive and portions of park trails to close.

After a joint investigation by the Virginia Department of Forestry and Warren County Fire Department, the official cause of the fire has been determined as accidental, according to Warren County Fire Chief Richard Mabie.

"[The ashes] were found outside a woodstove at the address of origin," Mabie said on Thursday.

Paul Sweeny, owner of 253 Parkside View Drive has been charged with carelessly damaging property at that address in the weekend fire, according to Harold Fisher, forest technician. Sweeny's age and home address were unavailable.

Fisher said an approximately 3-foot-tall pile of woodstove ashes was located near an outdoor furnace at the property.

Mabie said several county fires this winter have been traced to ash disposal. Mabie said the safest way to dispose of ashes is to use a metal container and water.

Fisher also said pouring water on ashes is essential to preventing a fire outbreak regardless of the type of contained used.

"A lot of people make the mistake of putting ashes in a barrel, thinking the barrel will be enough to put the ashes out," Fisher said.

For further developments, visit nvdaily.com or read the print edition of The Northern Virginia Daily.

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