Forest Service gets new fire line plow

Jun. 21, 2013 @ 06:07 AM

The NC Forest Service in Rutherford County got an early Christmas present from the State of North Carolina.

 A new 92 horsepower fire line plow is at the fire station on Airport Road near Mt. Vernon community and is being hauled to fire scenes on a tractor/trailer pulled by a 600 horsepowered tractor.

Forest rangers Doug Thompson and Henry Kunzig, talked about the new fire line plow. 

“We’ve been needing this for a long time,” Thompson said of the plow and tractor trailer.

The plow was a request at Rutherford station for decades.

Without the plow, rangers used hand equipment to dig fire lines until another plow came from the nearest site in Mt. Holly.

“We do 20 percent of the firefighting and Rutherford County is 3 percent of the region,” Thompson said.

The region includes counties from Union County in the east to Cherokee County and beyond, to the North Carolina/South Carolina state lines.

The time it took to transport the plow was valuable time for rangers in the field.

“This can get there a lot faster than before,” Thompson said.

Although the new equipment hasn’t  been used for a fire emergency it has been used numerous times for fire prevention, Thompson said.

Forest rangers have already used the plow for “prescribed burning.” Rangers have set fires in Rutherford County in order to dig a fire line around suspected wild fire areas to keep it from spreading.

“That way if a wild fire gets in there, it is under control,” Thompson said.

“We choose the days to set the fires,” Thompson said.

The region has experiened a quiet spring fire season and there are no expectations for a summer fire season.

“Rarely do we have a summer fire season,” Thompson continued.

Thompson and Kunzig are the first responders to a forest fire and if it is determined a fire plow is needed, they call for Eric Witherspoon, equipment driver for the NC Forest Service. 

Witherspoon is a member of the North Carolina National Guard and recently returned home from deployment. If Witherspoon is away and the equipment is needed, a fire equipment driver comes from Mt. Holly to drive.

In addition to new plow and tractor trailer, the Rutherford County station has a second truck just like the new one.

“We got a military surplus with only 7,000 miles,” Kunzig said. “It’s like getting two brand new trucks.” 

Not since 2009 when 900 acres burned in the South Mountains has the regional forest service had an extremely large forest fire.