Ragged indeed: Neighbors say dormant burn pile sparked massive blaze

Could it be that somebody in Ivy didn't get the memo that Saturday, February 19, was a "red flag day," a time of high winds and dry conditions that were prime time for fanning a fire?

According to the chatter overhead in the Ragged Mountain Farm neighborhood, somebody decided to burn some brush that day. Whatever started it, the result was a destroyed barn, dozens of ruined hay bales, and vast swaths of blackened fields and forests.

Not to mention fear and loathing, as flames crept close to occupied dwellings. And when this story was first posted, the fire had jumped the ridge and begun moving southward toward the Blandemar Farms subdivision.

"Fire burns slower downhill," said Albemarle Fire Chief Dan Eggleston, who said units from Charlottesville, Augusta, and Nelson counties joined the fight.

There were over 100 wildfires across Virginia that day, including one that caused the evacuation of about 100 Louisa County residents and the creation of a temporary shelter there, according to a release from the Virginia Department of Emergency Management.

There were no burned houses and no reports of property damage at Ragged Mountain Farm, but atop the adjacent Rosemont subdivision a burned barn was declared a total loss, Eggleston said.

County spokesperson Lee Catlin said in a release that the ultimate measure of the burned terrain will be "several hundred acres." Catlin indicated that crews arrived around 2pm Saturday and remained on the scene throughout the first night.

The fire occurred just four days into Virginia's ban on pre-4pm outdoor burning. The law, ยง 10.1-1142, criminalizes such fires, though they're just Class 3 misdemeanors which carry a penalty cap of $500. However, when wildfire results from illegal fires, the State Forester can seek restitution for all state fire-fighting expenses.

From atop a small ridge where cul-de-sacs have been carved but no houses erected, North Garden Volunteer Firefighter Robbie Campbell was making sure that Tanker 57 was supplying water to the smaller brush trucks operating in the forested peaks.

Unlike wildfires in the western United States, this one hadn't spread to the living trees, but plenty of snags were ablaze, as well as the forest floor. At the foot of one hill, a row of burned hay bales were testament to the fire's destructive power, and at a nearby working farm, a herd of cattle were ushered out of their charred pasture and into a horse field.

There was talk that a neighbor had actually witnessed someone light a pile of wood and brush, but when queried, the ostensible witness declined to speak to a reporter about what he'd seen.

Last May, 29 undeveloped lots in this 40-lot subdivision were foreclosed by their lender, in what was then part of Albemarle County's largest foreclosure (since eclipsed by Patricia Kluge's $23 million Albemarle House). The lots were taken back by their lender and then purchased earlier this year for $4.55 million by a Charlottesville-based company called Ragged Mountain Partners LLC which has been preparing them for individual sale.

Eggleston said that a Virginia Forestry Department bulldozer was requisitioned from a location near North Garden, and by 10pm, a large bulldozer could be seen parked on a flat-bed trailer on the shoulder of Dick Woods Road.

The cause remains "under investigation, says Eggleston, "but we think it started in this area."


Sunday morning (11am) update:

"I'm not worried now that the wind's stopped," said Rosemont resident Harry Bowen, as he watered down a pair of boxwood bushes outside his Newcomb Mountain Lane home.

Bowen says that only one year during his 12 as an Albemarle resident has experienced average or above-average rainful.

"It's the driest February I remember," said Bowen.

A couple of hundred yards away, on a hill facing the Blandemar Farms subdivision, four firefighters were working a perimeter cleared by a bulldozer on a slope whose grade appeared to be somewhere around 30 percent.

"The big thing is the steep terrain– that really hurts," said Lt. Rick Hagedorn of the Crozet Volunteer Fire Department, who said he fought the fire until 11:30pm Saturday and returned at 7am Sunday.

"We focused on protecting structures," Hagedorn said while standing inside the 8-foot-wide path bulldozer path.

"It's partially contained," said Hagedorn. "We've got dozer lines around it, and we're just gonna let it burn itself out."

Homeowner Bowen said that he's glad there wasn't more property damage.

"This will wake people up to the realization of how extraordinarily dry it is. This place is just a tinderbox." said Bowen. "I hope they find the idiot who started the fire."


Monday morning (11am) update:

Kelly Mumma stood on the front porch of her Ragged Mountain Drive home, and looked out at the vast swath of burned terrain.

"That was too close for comfort," said Mumma, who had returned home Saturday from a trip to Richmond to find her neighborhood ablaze. "It was terrifying."

Once night fell, undoused hot spots became scary little specks of light that appeared "like a city" up in the hills beyond her home, said Mumma.

Mumma said she recalls recently seeing wood and brush burning and smoldering over several days the prior week as workers have been preparing the land for the spring selling season.

In recent weeks, a new sign touting lots for sale has appeared out by Dick Woods Road, and the website lists three-acre tracts– most with expansive mountain views– for $200,000 to $350,000.

"I don't understand why anyone in their right mind would have lit a match," said Mumma, who considers natural re-ignition amid high winds a much liklier scenario.

"That's exactly what happened," says Andy Hord, whose home just across Dick Woods Road gave him a clear view of the dormant fire pile and Saturday's rapidly growing smoke plume. "I know precisely where it started."

Chris Sarpy, a partner with Ragged Mountain Partners LLC, concedes that the company recently conducted some wood and brush burns– but not on Saturday.

"It was so windy that day," says Sarpy. "We weren't burning anything at the time."

The law that criminalizes pre-4pm fires also criminalizes failures to extinguish older fires. Albemarle Count Fire Marshal James Barber says that numerous interviews have been conducted to determine how the fire began.

"We've made progress," Barber said Monday night, "but we're not complete with it. It may be Wednesday before we have the investigation wrapped."

Chip Walker of Albemarle Fire & Rescue says the first 911 call arrived at 2:10pm, and neighbor Hord believes that may have been his. Hord says he quickly put away the phone and began snapping photos and walking toward the conflagration.

One of Hord's images shows a Charlottesville fire truck arriving at 2:25pm, but the crew didn't immediately unleash torrents of water. Another picture shows a portable pond erected by firefighters. But none of Hord's early images show hoses actually putting water on flames.

"This whole thing really upset me to see it unfold," said Hord, whose pictures show a citizen on a John Deere tractor as the only person directly attacking the blaze even 30 minutes after that first unit arrived.

"It was a bad time for fire in Virginia," says Hord, "but if someone had been thinking and had a little water, then it never would have jumped that road."

Albemarle Fire & Rescue Battalion Chief Chip Walker, still on the scene with 15 to 20 personnel on Monday afternoon, responds.

"I wasn't here then, and I haven't seen the photos, but I can assure you that all the fire trucks arriving had water," says Walker.

"There are other methods to extinguishing a fire than water," continues Walker, noting that crews will often move ahead of advancing flames to find natural or human-made fire-breaks and might reserve their water for protecting structures.

James and Amy Maurer know something about that. They say they were filled with gratitude as crews doused the land around their house on Farriers Court. The house was saved, but the fire accelerated the move of this six-child family to their new home located a few hundred yards away to the farm on Ragged Mountain Farm Road.

Despite the charred terrain that's now its hallmark, the effort to pretty the subdivision continues. Two days after the blaze, a crew from Creations Unlimited Landscaping was spreading topsoil and placing grass seed mats near the entrance.

From their new house on Monday, the Maurers could watch the steady stream of gawker-filled cars driving through the charred hillside surrounding the house they soon intend to list for sale.

"Maybe we should put up a for-sale sign," says Amy.

"It's certainly lost its curb appeal," laughs her husband.

–->Google Map

–this story was updated at least 13 times
previous headline: "Barn destroyed: As Ragged Mountain fire chars neighborhoods


I am in Blandemar and can see the flames coming down the mountain from the Rosemont area. Many fire trucks in the neighborhood.

I never understood why people wanted to live in these mini mansions, in the middle of a farm field with no trees or wild areas near-by, but now I see the advantage, nothing to burn if fire breaks out.

Whether anyone knew today was a "red flag day" or not, anyone with an ounce of common sense would know that it was too windy to burn anything!

I think it small minded of any person (NancyDrew) to be concerned about the WHY anyone would want to live in a "mini mansion" at a time when another human being's home is in danger of burning down! I happen to live near here, and it is very scary--my children are terrified! I live in a "mini mansion" with lots of land because its what we like. I really don't see the need for bitterness or snide remarks about such a scary and unfortunate situation. Spare me the reasoning....

What the hell do mini mansions have to do with this fire?! I thought the fire was the main focus of this whole thing??


Ohh, good grief! Relax, guys and girls! I am sure Nancy Drew meant it sure would be nice to have a very nice mini-mansion surrounded by tall aged trees. I happen to agree with her. But the trees sure would carry an out of control fire from home to home rather quickly.

Fire knows no discrimination, nor should our sympathies. This fire is too close to a lot of homes, big and small alike. I for one am watching it creep over the hill and feel the flight or fight instinct strong.. My husband is out seeing if he can help contain it and I'm wondering what I might need to pack up! Yikes : ( more news please...

Firefighters will be up all night with the now less ravenous fire on Ragged Mtn Stationed on Taylors Gap ensuring that it doesn't cross Taylors Gap Rd. May use bull dozers to assist. Terrain difficult for dozers especially at night. Fire ring mainly ground level with snags/dead tree on fire. Teams working to prevent further spread into Blandemar development. Many thanks to those now very tired firefighters. These are good people looking out for all our families and their community. Guys please stay safe tonight.

Wow I saw the whole.mountain on fire leaving Lynchburg VA going to Hampton. Didn't know it was fire up there looked like Christmas lights from the highway

I want to thank all the fire fighters and volunteers for all there efforts in controlling this blaze .I would hope that whom, ever started this blaze would be prosecuted to the fullest extent .Any dumb ass would know not to lite a fire as of yesterday ,just a little common since would tell you no do not do this .I pray that all peeps homes are spared and as much land as is possible .SO a big THANK YOU needs to go out to all the HELP

I live out on 29 south and i could see flames high in the air what a terrible feeling thinking you may loose everything you own thank you so much for all you guys and gals do for our community THANKS TO ALL FIREFIGHTERS

The bottom line is WHY in the world would anyone burn when there were 30 something mph winds? Just plain dumb.

I hope everyone realizes that a cigarette butt thrown out a window, especially on a rural highway, can start one of these fires. Smokers seem always to be pitching their trash out their windows to become someone else's problem, whether it's someone else's trash/pollution problem or someone else's fire problem.

Atlas VA 1 SPE LLC is a BB&T holding company that took possession of the property and the 11 million BB&T mortgage at foreclosure from the Rocks LLC and then resold the Ragged Mountain development to a friend of the Rocks owners for under 5 million. One can only speculate how these deals are made with the bank and what the financial health of BB&T may be like as there are many more deals like this one. Wonder if the charred remains will deter those intent on building their McMansions at Ragged Mountain? Hopefully, there were no financial motives with regard to the fire that required risk and resources to battle.

I agree that there ought to be sincere thanks to the firefighters and others who havae helped to control and put out the blazes, and sincere empathy for those whose property (or lives) were threatened by them.

Natural disasters (fire, hurricanes, floods, etc)) and human-caused tragedies (fire, financial crises, environmental pollution, war) help to illustrate how interdependent we all are. They tend to prove that when it gets right down to it, we're all in this thing (life, community) together.

I am intrigued by the mini-spat over the mini-mansions.

People can, as MRSMO said, choose their homes "with lots of land because its what we like." And we should all be concerned, she says, when "another human being's home is in danger of burning ." Fair enough.

And neighbor points out that "Fire knows no discrimination." Okay.

But what about the problems and issues raised by the Tennessee firefighters who let a house burn down because the owners hadn't paid their fire "fee?"


And, extending beyond fire services, should we all be concerned when another's life "is in danger?" Or when another's education or livelihood is jeopardized because of "discrimination?"

And if the answer to those questions is yes, then what might that require of us? All of us.

Wow, high winds are almost like throwing gas on a fire. Even when people don't burn brush, accidents can happen. The Louisa fire was started by a tree falling on a power line.

lol.. its a shame none of the rich people got burned up.. most of them lack even the simplest instincts.. for instance, mrsmo, dont be afraid of a slow moving fire lol.. grab your over priced garden hose and spray water on it! im sure that none of you have had to extinguish a fire, seeing as how your butlers usually handle that sort of thing.. but its magical the way water stops fire. try it sometime. and you live in a mini mansion because youre under the impression that if people think you have alot of money, they will think better of you.. but your bank account cant conpensate for what a degenerate character you are.

Hey LOL, you're about all that is wrong with America. Anyone with $.50 or $50,000,000 woul agree with me on that. Maybe you should be "burned up?"

Thanks Hawes, this article is the only real in depth, on the scene reporting from any news media , your efforts are greatly appreciated .

The pictures greatly enhance the coverage for those unfamiliar with the Mcmansionizing of the once picturesque Albemarle landscape.

People need to ask what is contributing to the drying up of the planet, and clear cutting forests, destroying meadows and hedge rows for 5 acre estates isn't helping.

Neither are HAARP, chemtrails and aerosols (and nanochips and viruses) being mixed in with jetfuel (or dumped from air force tankers) sprayed in the atmosphere to mess with the weather and our bodies (thanks so much for covering these things, Hawes). Oh, and that big burning fireball in the sky. But this wildfire is just due to the actions of a single moron, not the fact that we don't want to pay a carbon tax to Al Gore, cheif shareholder, Occidental Petroleum, owner of five houses (on the beach) that use about fifty times the amount the average house does.

Still not one person has clarified why they were burning with the winds being as strong as they were. That to me is the bottom line. There isnt much more to say, if they werent burning, there would be no fire! Problem solved.

To clarify, the photo Hawes took is in the new and now defunct Ragged Mountain development on Dick Woods. The firefighters spent the night protecting modest homes on Taylors Gap and stopping the fire from jumping over Taylors Gap Road. A large thank you to our firefighters. As most people already know, we all count; the firefighters already know this.

So the rich can do as the please huh? Isnt this an "arson" case? If you or me did it it would be . We'd be in jail bunkin with Baba (ouch) and the boys if we 1. opened burned when it was prohibited.2. If we were that stupid enough to burn with 60 mph winds . But if your one of the chosen in C Ville you can get away with anything. In the words of a great southerner "stupit is as stupit does" Ithink all the peole on that street were drinkin some of that great local grape juice.that the rich get tax breaks for

burn baby burn... wildfires use to be natural, but they cause global warming.. then use valuable water from the depleted ground reserves to put out, and we all get cancer in the process.

Bush's fault............

Apparently the fire was started by a lot owner in Ragged Mt Farm development on Sat afternoon. He was burning brush and the neighbors asked him to stop understandably (there are only 3 or 4 houses in the whole development), however this did not occur. Now he is responsible monetarily for all the damage, all the man power, the whole cost of services. I would not want to be in his shoes.

I am very grateful for the efforts of the various fire departments. I would not have a place to live today if it was not for them.

Karl Rove's fault. Bush is too dim to blame...........

Given the fact that others witnessed the actions of whoever set the fire - when will his or her name be released ?


"Bush's fault............

Why yes Harry in many ways it is. All those lvoely tax breaks that funded the McMansion drive in lots of wild areas, filled with numb nuts that don't understand that you don't burn brush in high winds, on super dry ground. Those houses wouldn't be there, and public services - volunteer or otherwise - wouldn;t be stretched so thinly now, would they?

Sorry @old timer: HarryD and folks like him pose only rhetorical questions. Unless your answer is: "Right!", they ignore it.

I thought it more than a little interesting that the fire seems to have originated at Ragged Mountain Farm....which is really a small, pricey subdivision. The marketing site advertises lots from 3-6 acres, with four much larger "preservation tracts:

"The large preservation tracts and those that border them provide superior privacy and protection. Open parcels feature incredible Blue Ridge Mountain views while others border the pristine and beautiful Ivy Creek...The four preservation tracts range in size from 92 to 106 acres. Each allows one primary residence."

So, it's clear that these are estates, pure and simple. No dividing rights. My guess is that one would have to pay quite a bit for one of the big "preservation tracts." But not to worry. Because there are significant tax breaks for such a purchase, from the county and from the state and feds. The tax breaks, are in essence, a subsidy.

Some of the commenters on this article live in Blandemar Farm Estates and other landed subdivisions, and their homes were threatened by the fires. They were understandably concerned, as were those who lived on nearby Taylor's Gap Rd. As one commenter noted, fire doesn't discriminate.

But go to the county's property records website and you can find a 1.84 acre parcel home on Taylor's Gap Rd assessed at more than $65,000 an acre for the land, and go to Blandemar Farm Estates and find a 21-acre home, a million-dollar-plus property, assessed at only slightly more than $11,000 for the land. That's because the county gives a land use tax subsidy to big landowners. Sixty percent of all the land in the county is in the tax subsidy program at a cost of about $20 million a year.

Now, the recipients of these tax subsidies do not plan to, and in many cases, cannot subdivide their land. And the wildfires proved that they can and do use county services.

Perhaps fire does not discriminate....but the county's tax policy surely does.

[Note to HarryD: Bush would certainly be in agreement with the county land use tax policy, since it favors those who are affluent. So would Bob McDonnell, who sponsored the elimination in Virginia of the estate tax, a tax that affected only the wealthiest 1 percent of households. The elimination of that tax cost the state $150 million a year in revenues, sorely needed at a time when the state is cutting education funding.]

Ha...wasn't some freedom-loving patriot (you know: the kind who are worried about protecting tax cuts for the kind of folks who buy McMansions at places like The Rocks) just commenting (whining) here recently about how the permitting and inspection process was just an attempt by the jack-booted oppressive government to extract revenue and create jobs for bureaucrats - though certainly not jobs that would pay for a place at the Rocks?

Most likely the idiot who started this was an urban-dweller playing weekend "brush clearing" at his play "farm" in the "countryside". I hope they ruin (bankrupt) the fool with the bill for this boondoggle, but anyone who thinks we aren't all getting stuck with the costs for this rich idiot's mess are the greater fools. It is, indeed, very very hard to find a better bit of symbolism for the way our country operates - privatize the benefits (for the rich) and socialize the costs to the rest of us. Funny how the fire didn't just burn his property and house...I thought the divine invisible guiding hand of Austrian Economics dictated that only the irresponsible were punished for their poor choices and bad risk decisions - that's what Glen Beck told me on his whiteboard.

All you Freedom-Lovers with your (selective) fetish for symbols of officialdom and authority are no doubt high-fiving the firefighters who dealt with this mess (and the firefighters do deserve massive kudos), but you might want to stop and consider who pays for those firefighters. You might consider that the 'professional' (paid for with taxes) and 'volunteer' (paid for by donations) are paid for by all of us a society - it's kind of...wait for it...socialist.

The individual made a mistake but I, being a person of faith, believe that ultimately it was God that let it happen for whatever reasons.

Great job done by all of the firefighters working this fire and the ones elsewhere in Virginia. Thank you for putting your lives on the line to protect the (oftentimes not so intelligent) citizens of the Commonwealth.
To everyone else: please consider donating to your local volunteer fire or rescue service. They could really use it, for equipment, training or the like. Without them and the services they offer (without pay and in addition to working other full-time jobs), we would all be worse off.

What is the mechanism for property insurers and other parties (incl. the fire department) to recover costs? I'm curious how this works.

And I am curious what the cost of fighting this fire is and who bears the responsibility to pay for it ?

Thanks for the photos and keeping us informed.

The grass will be greener, the forest cleaner. Fires are an important part of the ecosystem regardless of how they start. Unfortunately most people have lost touch with the land and no longer understand how to use fire as a tool. I'd like to hear a story about how many of these homeowners grabbed a rake or shovel and volunteered to help the firefighters or did they simply look out their window in "fear"?

Well, I don't know about the homeowners putting out fires, but we have evidence one local reported helped douse the fire --see pics , tell tale watering can .

Here a quiz; how many watering cans does it take to extinguish a brush fire ?

Meant to say, local reporter helped douse the fire.

Mother Nature to the rescue --freezing rain, sleet, and snow on the way


@AJ. Ain't religion awesome. You can never be wrong. If good happens thank god for answering your prayers. When bad occurs we don't question but accept gods ways. Mans free will is dangled like a carrot.

ontheroad! Hakuna Matata for the rest of your days!

NancyDrew are you dateing this Hawes Guy ? or just going to ask him for some money ? Funny how he was at the fire as it STARTED Ummmmmmmmmmm.!!

Neither, but I do like " Hardy Boys ". I thought reporters were suppose to do be first at the scene, not report from a warm office somewhere.

NancyDrew Well he certainly was" WARM" now wasnt he ?

I live in here because it's a beautiful place to live and we enjoy it.I am sure that nobody started the fire .The high winds probably just caused the fire to start where brush was being cleaned up a week or so prior to saturday.It will be prettier and greener than ever in the spring.Thanks to all the great people who protected our homes.We are forever grateful that no one was hurt .

Kelly Mumma Did you think the fire was smoldering someplace for a week? Spontaneous combustion ,lightning ,someone making crop circles ?
You and your brush burning .law breaking Brain dead neighbors better come up with a better fairy tail than that! Oh by the way isn't the earth flat ?

I wonder why a limited liability corporation (LLC) owns a single family residence on Ragged Mountain Drive.

And why do such corporations and trusts hold title to some single family homes on landed estates in nearby Blandemar Farms?

Could it be that there are tax benefits to such ownership structures?

"Could it be that there are tax benefits to such ownership structures?"

that, and an attempt to hide from liability in huge stupidity cases like this. Hopefully the judge will be smart enough to pierce the Corporate veil, and go right for their individual assets.

Some facts for idontknowanythingjustaskmywife. There are 3 homes in Ragged Mountain Farm. Two of the homes are vacant, the other home owners of the third property were out of town when the fire started. The new owners of the development have been clearing brush and burning brush piles for months. Those piles smolder for days at a time and with the addition of 30-40 mph winds you have a problem.

The LLC that owns the single family residence is MacMillan-Pace, the original builder of the home. With the soft housing market, they have been unable to sell that house. Could be the same in Blandemar Farms, but I don't have first hand information on that.

RRM You must be drinking the kool aid the Property owners are handing out . No one in their right mind would leave a fire unattended if it were still burning .The new owners should be held responsible for all cost because if what your saying is true .I This is a great spin on your part , blame someone else for your acts !!!????? If it doesn't fit you must acquit only works for OJ !!!
One more thing In a state that relies on forestry for a great deal of commerce why don't the ban open burning all together.

Some of your comments are unreal. So many of you seem to think you know what America should be all about, but yet you just choose to criticize people for making a choice about where they wanted to live. Whether they live in Rosemont, the Rocks, etc., let them, and their money, live wherever they want. And you can live where you want. If you don't like that stuff, don't buy there. As is, you sound like a bunch of jealous tweens with nothing better to do.

What a vengeful lot of people.

RE: Idontknow and RRM

Perhaps it was a contractor that set the fire. I believe the county does offer a permitting process for fires.


People can live where they want but they have to take responsibility for their actions. There always seems to be this disconnect for certain people though, in that they shouldn't pay taxes, but they get services.

Old Timer,

I appreciate your perspective...but...really: "always." Aren't we all over the far reaching broad comments now? Sure, some people might have a disconnect, but this board--and boards on the Hook routinely throw people into this lot of being "rich, bad people." Here's a thought: some people might have worked really really hard to be have a great career, might want a big house, and might just be responsible enough to pay taxes and not expect everything for free. By the way, those people, some of whom started with nothing, are getting taxed on their dollars more than others. So, in the end, I guess they really aren't getting away with anything for free.

my god all these hateful comments ,what in the world is wrong with all you people .some people have worked there asses off to get where they are i personally have worked my whole life, im poor but i do not thrive on it i just keep working ,lets get real here the person or persons responsible for this will be prosecuted by law .and as for the people that choose to live this lavish life congratulations, people choose to live the way they want i am a gardener and places like this keep me in business so god bless all of you , i am also glad no one was hurt and no ones homes were destroyed as for all the rude comments what is wrong with society ,that they choose to treat people with such disrespect ,on the other hand if they were burning on the weeks before this fire and the fires were smoldering for a week they should be in jail , as a boy scout many years ago we learned that you never leave a fire burning always make sure they are out ,no flame no smoke no fire thanks again to all the folks whom helped with the weekend of fires in our area THANK YOU TO ALL WHOM HELPED THIS WEEKEND IN ALL THE FIRES IN OUR AREA

As one of those folks who live in those "McMansions" referred to I'd like to set the record straight.
My wife and I were out there on Ragged Mountain with water lines going in the middle of the flames and smoke trying to save our home just like any other person in any other home of any other price range would do. Believe it or not, most of the folk referred to as living in McMansions, worked very hard for many years instead of spending their evenings drinking beer. Many of us started with nothing while reaching for our dreams. Condemning those who have larger houses is small minded, ignorant and juvenile. Would you resent it if the doctor who saves your life lived in a house larger than yours ? Would you be happy if it burned ? Shame on the foolish and hateful remarks seen in this column. For the record, Ragged Mountain Farm didn't have it's woodlands cleared to make way for rich people's houses. The land was originally cleared for agricultural purposes since it was an actual farm! Is there anyone out there who actually refers to facts before spewing their venom at this most inappropriate time? Thanks to the selfless firefighters who struggled side by side with my wife and myself - in a time of need we all worked for the common good regardless of the bottom line on our 1040 forms.

@ Mike Krel and doug (and others):

I don't see where there's been a bashing of people who "work hard" on this thread (Indeed, many have praised the "hard work" of those who fought the fires).

Nor do I see where anyone is "condemning those who have larger houses." As many have noted, people can live where they want.

The problem, though, pointed out clearly by the wildlfires is this:

"...go to the county's property records website and you can find a 1.84 acre parcel home on Taylor's Gap Rd assessed at more than $65,000 an acre for the land, and go to Blandemar Farm Estates and find a 21-acre home, a million-dollar-plus property, assessed at only slightly more than $11,000 for the land. That's because the county gives a land use tax subsidy to big landowners. Sixty percent of all the land in the county is in the tax subsidy program at a cost of about $20 million a year.

Now, the recipients of these tax subsidies do not plan to, and in many cases, cannot subdivide their land. And the wildfires proved that they can and do use county services."

So, Mike Krel and doug.....explain this tax treatment.

For all I know, the owner of the house of that 1.84 acres tract worked hard to acquire it. His home was threatened by fire too. But maybe he cannot afford a "larger house" on 21 acres. Why is his effective real estate tax rate nearly six times more than the person with the "larger house" on the landed estate?

Please explain that.

You guys need to look into the Albemarle County Code. Check out such things as land use, conservation easements, etc. You'll also note that in almost every part of the County, once the first acre or two is designated as residential for a dwelling, the other acres are worth much, much, much less...and appraisals accurately display that.

Here's the bottom line, again: no matter where you sit on the political fence, for some of the folks on here to hint that people in these neighborhoods deserved this potential disaster, etc., is a disgrace. Half of you are uninformed, and most of you naysayers sound jealous and uninformed--and I'm sure, or I hope, you are neither.

I'm done posting.

Don't we need big parcels of land for farming considering the food shortages that loom ahead? Why would you have a 21 acre piece of land just sitting there, mowed and looking pretty, instead of planting something in it? Thats the part I don't get.

Jack M .RRM

The law that criminalizes pre-4pm fires also criminalizes failures to extinguish older fires. Albemarle Count Fire Marshal James Barber says that numerous interviews have been conducted to determine how the fire began

There was talk that a neighbor had actually witnessed someone light a pile of wood and brush, but when queried, the ostensible witness declined to speak to a reporter about what he'd seen The rich taking care of their rich friends as always in Shangri La!!! Um. should I say C-Ville


You are very bitter. The philosophy is that when you work more, you earn more. So if you want to be rich then start knowing yourself instead of referring to your wife and work hard. You will get there, I promise.

AJ Id bet you that not 10% of the money in this town is "NEW" money .The rest is old money or trust fund money. And if I want shrink Ill call you and ask for your shrinks phone number.

I am my own shrink. We don't live in a communist country so if its old money or new money or trust fund money, what does it matter? I personally don't want to be filthy rich, I want to have enough to survive and donate a little bit. But why hate people who are rich? They worked hard or their parents worked hard or somebody worked hard to get there, they didn't steal it from you? Also, why badger people? I am sure that the authorities are capable enough to find out if and how the fire started by tracing the fire path or if any rules were broken. If burning a brush pile is not a crime, its not a crime. If it is then it is and the person will be found out.

I say take a chill pill, relax, look out your window and enjoy the mountains.

@ doug

I don't see where anyone on this thread has opined that somebody, big house or smaller house, "deserved this potential disaster."

The question that I keep posing, and you keep declining to answer, is why someone who can afford an estate (and the properties I've cited are marketed as estates) in an affluent subdivision is granted a taxpayer subsidy, and pays only one-sixth the tax rate as a nearby landowner who has only 1.8 acres?

We all now know that these landed estates do depend on county services.

So why does the little guy pay nearly six times as much?

My assessment from the county (public record) is nearly $2.0M on my 2.9 acre parcel with house and I pay $15,000 annually in tax to Albemarle County. What is the nearby landowner with the 1.8 acres pay per year? I don't think he is paying $15,000 times 6!

Where can I find this taxpayer subsidy you are referring to?

AJ Burning a wood pile "IS" a crime Before 4pm on red flag days . As for anyone being found guilty of such a thing in that neighborhood ????!!!!! Bitter not me Devils advocate yes having fun with this yes not giving a crap about the Mcmansion people in town yes.Loving life as it come yes So why don't you kick of your Berkanstocks take a deep breath and chill.

Birkenstocks are shoes...good...as long you don't worry about my financial stocks...

BTW Democracy, I agree that if the Blandemar assessments you cite are accurate, there is something seriously wrong.

Feel sorry for the owner/investor of Lots A19 and B20 at Ragged mountain farm development who paid 2.4 M for 100 acres in 06(B20) and 2.4 M for 85 acres in 07(A19) before the real estate crash, considering the entire development was sold by BB&T for under 5M recently to Chris Sarpy and his LLC. The above lots are in land use by the way. Not to mention the deal the Maurers got from BB&T on the 106 acre residual ragged mountain farm(3.2M) with a new mansion and outbuildings built by MacMillon-Pace. Timing and luck is everything.

Thank you to the firefighters who protect us all, rich or poor. Thank goodness no one was hurt. Shame on you if you remove the human element and make this about your issues or about things that piss you off. Anytime, ANYONE's home and/or life are in peril, we as a community should rally for their safety and the protection of their home. Big or small, expensive or not, our homes hold many things that can never be replaced, NO ONE wants or deserves for this to happen. Imagine if it was your home and family that were in danger, how would you feel reading these postings? If you disagree with the tax code take your comments and criticism to the elected official that can affect change. If this was a criminal act (and we will not determine this by discussing it via web postings) I am confident that our law enforcement has the talent and the ability to make this determination. Let them do their jobs. We as a community should be saying, thank goodness none of our neighbors was hurt and thank goodness the firefighters were not harmed. Ugliness and mean spiritedness are petty and should be beneath us, take a stand as a community of people with character and compassion. To the families this fire affected: I am glad you are safe and your homes were saved. To the fire fighters and community members who made this so, THANK YOU!

The pupose of giving land use status to large parcels is simple.
Developers and land owners are encouraged not to request large
numbers of small lots through this beneift from the county.
The result, regardless of the price range of the subdivision, is that
there are less houses dotting the landscape. That's something we can
all agree is a benefit to a beautiful area like ours.
So, if you like having less houses in a given rural area, you can't condem
your local government offering tax breaks as an incentive to developers and
home buyers to do just that. In the same way that government provides
tax deductions for charitable contributions - incentives like these do good
things in the bigger picture. Idontknowanything should spend more time
reading and learning about the laws and regulations where he lives and
what purpose they have. The density of subdivisions all over the county
in all price ranges, has been less than it might have been because of
incentives to people to use less division rights. This is a fact that can
be easily verified by anyone wishing to do so.

@RRM You can search for property assessments by subdivision, specific address, name, or general address (Taylor's Gap Rd., or Blandemar Dr., for example). Each of the examples I cited can be found here (so too can 45.5 acres of "vacant residential land," valued at nearly $720,000 but assessed at only a little more than $13,000 due to land use): http://gisweb.albemarle.org/welcome.aspx
Your 2.9 acres does not qualify for the land use subsidy, but if you had 29 acres of open fields surrounding your house, you'd get the subsidy (assuming that you applied for it).

Earwig says that "timing and luck" are everything in real estate. Perhaps. But as the unfolding Biscuit Run tax credit scam illustrates, politics and tax policy play important roles.

Pollyannamaybe says that "we as a community should rally for...safety and protection...[and] take a stand as a community of people with character and compassion." It's as though s/he were reciting the purpose of government under the Virginia Constitution, which states that it is "instituted for the common benefit, protection, and security of the people." What s/he doesn't say is what that might require of each of us in the way of "character." In any democratic form of government, the citizenry can best "affect change." When policies are flawed, the people have a right to reform them "in such a manner as shall be conducive to the public weal."

Mike Krel apparently feels that the land use tax subsidy policy is "a benefit to a beautiful area like ours," a semantic variation of the argument that we all benefit from "the views." Krel argues that the land use subsidy is but one example of "incentives" that "do good things." Perhaps Krel is unaware that this particular "good thing" costs other taxpayers $20 million a year and results in less funding for schools, fewer firefighters and police officers, reduced park and recreational services, and compressed pay for all county workers.

I wonder which of the posters on this site believe the elimination of the estate tax in Virginia, a tax that affected only the wealthiest 1 percent of households and cost the state $150 million a year in revenues, was a "good thing." Presumably, some think unfunded supply-side tax cuts for the wealthy actually trickle down to others and are a "good thing," ignoring all the evidence, like huge budget deficits and a ballooned national debt, to the contrary.

In essence Krel's argument seems to be that big-tract single-family-home properties with no development rights, and with million-dollar-plus homes that are adjoined by other "estate parcels, should receive land use tax-assessment subsidies of $400,000, $500,000 and more because they are a good deal for everybody.

But much, much better for some than for others.

I do not support land use status for parcels that are obviously not being used in that fashion as required - in that there is some clear use for agriculture or animals in an ongoing business.
In addition, I certainly do NOT support the elimination of the estate tax in Virginia because it is clearly a break for the top 1% and no one else.
Keep in mind that there are many more modest subdivisions in Albemarle whose homes in no way could be defined as mansions that did bring benefit to all their residents by agreeing with the county to have larger lots and less divisions. Those homeowners would argue they received better quality of life and faster real estate appreciation due to the fact of larger parcels and less home density. We can sneer about "views", but clearly when comparing equal homes, the one that provides pretty views is worth more and will sell faster - something homeowners of all levels can appreciate. In fact, homeowners like these pay more property tax to the county, not less.
I've seen these policies provide benefit to many diverse economic levels of residents unlike the effect of the outrageous estate tax break to the rich. The "estate parcel" tax assessment subsidies described are clearly unfair and illustrate people working the county system. People who do this are not limited to owners of million dollar and up houses. I never said that big tract single family homes with no development rights should receive anything. I also don't group those types of homes together with "estate parcels" - whatever that might include.
I think many residents here would be happy to see some sort of balance between the inclination of developers to squeeze as many homes in a project as they can get away with and the wish of many of us to preserve at least some segment of the rural beauty of this area that all of us enjoy.
The loss of county revenue described by "democracy" is real and is unfair. But it is not the only reason that we may lose firefighters and teachers. Our county government is packed full with far too many highly paid administrators who work very hard to protect their jobs while often having little to do. The county building and inspections department is only one example of this.
Cutting out pieces of our education budget is outrageous at a time when many of our unnecessary county supervisors, consultants and administrators seem to be untouchable.

Democracy or more appropriate democrat, you should realize that when an owner sells a property that is in land use they must recoup/repay 5 years of tax forgiveness. This means that one must hold the property intact for quite a while to take advantage of the land use concept that is designed to discourage land development. There was just a recent re-evaluation of properties in land use by the county that occurred to insure compliance to the program and resulted in signifcant new tax dollars. Land developers used to swoop in and buy large farms ie the rocks and ragged mountain then go to the county and offer proffers to get what they wanted within guidelines for the development. Of course the banks were only happy to loan the money in the good old days before the crash. The fact is that without land use many small farmers could not afford to keep their family farms intact and would have to sell out to developers which would lead to more urban sprawl. The political deals that occur behind the scenes such as the biscuit run deal where an orange county appraiser came up with a fraudulent appraisal in order to make the investors whole is a very different situation and I hope is dealt with appropriately at the state level but we may never know that outcome. I think you should be more concerned on the national level where the waste of taxpayers dollars is on an apocalyptic course.

County Farmer says that without the land use tax subsidy that "many small farmers could not afford to keep their family farms intact." This is the same argument that conservatives made to eliminate the the estate tax that was levied only on the wealthiest 1 percent of households in the state. Oh, they wailed, small businesses and family farms will be ruined. Naturally, they could cite a single one because there were none.

The county's own record's show that agricultural production and farm jobs are in significant decline in the county. So, County Farmer, how many legitimate working small farms are there? There are already exemptions for age and disability.

But the fact remains, and you fail to address it: 60 percent of all land in the land use tax subsidy program, and it costs taxpayers nearly $20 million a year. Others have to pay more because some get a nice tax break on non-farm land (the examples I cited in earlier posts show how big the discrrepancy can be). And, as a result there's less funding for schools, fewer firefighters and police officers, reduced park and recreational services, and compressed pay for all county workers.

You say I should be "more concerned on the national level where the waste of taxpayers dollars." (You're not trying to evade the waste in the land use tax subsidy are you?) Indeed, I am. There's a huge amount of waste in the defense department, not to mention the fact that both wars (one of which was launched under false pretenses) have been and are being fought with borrowed money. And then, there are the supply-side economic policies that piled up the vast bulk of the national debt, and unfunded tax cuts for the wealthy and corporations that haven't trickled down; and the corporate and banking fraud that broke the economy. I'm guessing that you voted for those. I didn't.

@ Michael Krel...enjoyed reading your post.

oops....last sentence of the 1st paragraph should read, "Naturally, they could cite NOT a single one because..."

The federal govt taxes me when I earn it, then the state taxes me on the same earned money, and if I earn lots of money, a bigger portion of the pie goes to taxes. That is, for every dollar I earn, I might pay forty cents of it to the govt, while you may only have to pay 10 cents for earning a dollar, or maybe nothing at all.
Then the state (and some local govts) tax it when I spend it. If I save it, they tax me if I make a little interest income on it. If I live in one house with 6 people on 200 acres, and you live in one house with six people on 1 acre, do you think I recieve 200 times as much police and fire protection as your house on 1 acre?
My husband & I both grew up in rural poverty, (as in no indoor plumbing, no TV, etc), worked hard to pay for our college educations, saved our money, lived frugally, and now own a very nice home on 4 acres and pay ~ $10,000 annually in county property taxes, plus federal, state, sales, and a host of other taxes, totalling close to HALF of every dollar we make. And now you think that our money should be taxed yet one more time when we die and try to give it to our children, because it is "only fair"????? That is socialism at its finest.

Dear twinmom....you've apparently consumed far too much of the conservative Kool-Aid. We already HAVE socialism, and most of it, like the county land use tax subsidy, goes to those who have the most money.

But aside from socialism for the rich, of which conservatives approve overwhelming even though they masquerade it as something else, would you think it wise to get rid of federal deposit insurance for banks and savings and loans, interstate highways, Social Security, the National Institutes of Health, food and drug safety inspections and regulations...? The list goes on.

If you own a house and four acres then your land and your money was not likely subject to the estate tax (what conservatives like to call the "death" tax so everybody will THINK they have to pay it. They don't.)

You do a little nosing around and I bet you will find that, unless you were in the top 1 percent of households in Virginia, and given the spousal and family exemptions, that you would not have had to pay any estate tax.
So I think you are making a hollow argument.

Additionally, you've purposefully overlooked some things, have you not? You talk about your federal, state and local taxes, and the sales tax. What you fail to note is that sales taxes are regressive; that is, they fall hardest on those with the lowest incomes. Moreover, when you file your federal taxes, you can deduct the state income taxes and the local property taxes and the mortgage interest from your taxable income. You get to deduct those property taxes and mortgage interest from your state tax bill too.

And if you can afford to buy your child's college education with cash a decade or more before she's ever ready for college, you can deduct that from your state taxes as well. People who rent and who cannot afford to buy property or college educations with cash get no such subsidies. Would you call that socialism too? Or do you prefer to call it something else?

One of the biggest lies told by conservatives, and perpetuated here and elsewhere, is that we are overtaxed. But of all the developed nations in the world, the overall tax rate in the U.S. is near the bottom. And of all the states in the nation, Virginia's overall tax rate is in the bottom ten. And of all the localities in Virginia, there is none as affluent as Albemarle with a lower tax rate. This is fact. It's all verifiable.

We also know that the rich have gotten richer and continue to reap big subsidies, the poor are poorer and the middle class is squeezed. And corporations sit on $2 trillion in cash, refusing to lend and invest it (contrary to the supply-side "theory)...and they want more tax cuts and incentives and give-aways. And they expect everybody else to pay for it (especially unions). The county has been squeezing budget cuts out of its employees for years.

What say you twinmom?

@Mike Krell - you can accomplish the same result - less sprawl cluttering the landscape - without a tax subsidy to large landholders by simply passing zoning ordinances on minimum lot sizes. A "tax expenditure" like your land-use exemption is the same thing as a subsidy. Are you seriously claiming you're operating a commercial farming operation out there on your family farm? I wonder what the HOA bylaws for these subdivisions say about livestock? In a "fair tax" world, you'd be paying the same rate on the same market value as people who can't claim land-use.

My beef is not with the rich - whether they "earned it" or not - living in nice houses and enjoying them. They deserve, as much as anyone, to spend their money as they see fit. But the constant refrain that the legitimate needs of the community for regulation and governance - all the more poignant now with what is going on in Wisconsin - are somehow an attempt to steal other people's money in some Marxist conspiracy, rings hollow here. Clearly, this is a demonstration proof that we do, in fact, need to enforce the permitting and inspection of burn sites in the county. Such measures are not heavy handed government intrusiveness designed to steal money from "hard working" people - they are a legitimate function to protect all of us from some people's bad judgment regarding risk.

oh jeez...I should read the entire thread before responding. My apologies @Krell, clearly you get the point.

Democracy is really Perriello and Scott is his campaign manager. You should thank me and twinmom for all the taxes we paid in our property taxes for education that allowed you to receive such a LIBERAL education to make your arguments even though I had no children that received this benefit. It is almost like you are my adopted radical child.

@ County Farmer.....you attempt to slay the messenger but you fail to address the message (and we know why that is, don't we?).

Obviously, sixty percent of the land in Albemarle County, one of the most affluent localities in the state, is not occupied by small farmers overburdened by taxes and toiling hard just to make it. You imply, incorrectly, that it is.

And surely both the parcel I cited on Taylor's Gap Rd. and on Blandemar Dr, were both equally threatened by the recent wildfires, and both received fire protection. Yet the little guy pays six times as much tax on his land as the guy with more land and the bigger house. You're fine with that because you get the subsidy too.

Perhaps you'll take a stab at addressing what I posted for twinmom (and which you ignored...but we know why, don't we?)"

"... sales taxes are regressive; that is, they fall hardest on those with the lowest incomes. Moreover, when you file your federal taxes, you can deduct the state income taxes and the local property taxes and the mortgage interest from your taxable income. You get to deduct those property taxes and mortgage interest from your state tax bill too."

"... if you can afford to buy your child's college education with cash a decade or more before she's ever ready for college, you can deduct that from your state taxes as well. People who rent and who cannot afford to buy property or college educations with cash get no such subsidies. Would you call that socialism? Or do you prefer to call it something else?"

"One of the biggest lies told by conservatives, and perpetuated here and elsewhere, is that we are overtaxed. But of all the developed nations in the world, the overall tax rate in the U.S. is near the bottom. And of all the states in the nation, Virginia's overall tax rate is in the bottom ten. And of all the localities in Virginia, there is none as affluent as Albemarle with a lower tax rate. This is fact. It's all verifiable."

You call a government that is of the people, by the people and for the people, and that stands for equality and justice and promoting the general welfare of society "radical."

I call it democracy.

County Farmer 2, Democracy 0

@ Conscientious objection

Comprehension: the act or action of grasping with the intellect; the capacity for understanding fully

I'd ask YOU to take a try at addressing the questions and issues I posed.....but I see that too would be futile.

I'm hardly Periello's campaign manager (who I know and who would get a very big laugh out of the notion). I do know this though: clearly twinmom and Country Farmer think that government is (or should be) just a business and they should only be taxed on the services they "purchase": government by fee. I think they should move to Somalia, Afghanistan or some other stateless state where they can live in private-government (self-provided) bliss. Land is a resource in our country - if you're tying up 200 acres, you're tying up a lot more of the country's resources than the person who's got 2 acres, regardless of the number of people under the roof.

"The philosophy is that when you work more, you earn more."

There is also a philosphy that if you make bad business decisions you fail and go out of business. Yet look at all those banks still in business, with all those trading room folks who broke the bank, and somehow they still have their bonuses. On which they expected to pay 15% when some fireman gets to pay 25%. I guess that's he fireman/woman's reward for 'working hard' instead of sitting on their butt working up schemes to cheat the investor and the nation.

Working hard, working smartly, and getting financially rewarded for those labours do not have any connection at all these days in the US. More riduclous is that many seem less inclined to appreciate that they were able to earn something from nothing because of the social structures paid for by tax payers in the past, back when the highest tax bracket was 90%. Which is why you find people quite angry.

And by the way, I was born in a very large house, which was the main home for a true working farm. My grandfather would be turning in his grave over the attitudes represented here by folks who seem to think that they 'worked hard' more than any one else.

I await anyone with the courage to actually be able to asnwer democracy.

Hey democracy, if you are really Perriello, I voted for you and also, say hi to Obama from me. I really like him and would like to serve in his team one day :)

I was a firefighter that was their the first night of the blaze. It was the worst fire i have ever seen. I want to thank all of you for the Thanks that you have given, and want you all to know that we love doing what we do, and we are proud to have done it. Thanks

How remarkable to see the degree of naked hostility in some of these comments.

I suppose it is another reflection of the ongoing unravelling of the social contract
we see all around us, but perhaps most ominously in the inability of our
elected officials to agree on anything that would benefit the country as a whole..

There does seem to be an increasing tension between the average folk and
those in the top 1 % of income, and this thread has hit on some of the reasons for this
as experienced at the local level.

It is interesting to conssider the long term consequences of social inequality and the
related inequalities of income distribution. The period during which taxes on the wealthy
were highest was during the Eisenhower years. This was also the period of maximum florescence of our national economy, a period when everyone, including the wealthy, was doing better and better year by year. "Supply side" economics, reckless deregulation, the enormous tax breaks for the wealthy and especially for the wealthiest of the wealthy have, along with pointless years of foreign wars, caused conditions of economic hardship for all but the wealthy in our country, together with a diminishment of resources available for maintenance of the basic foundations of civilized society, such as infrastructure and public education.

Given the level of inter-class hostility already so openly displayed in this thread on a local event in a rural community paper, one can only wonder if over time this kind of hostility will grow and eventually result in the kind of national popular uprising we are seeing around the world where the average folk rise up against the oppressive oligarchies.

If our elected officials and political institutions become nothing more than the servants of the wealthiest, with no purpose other than to protect and preserve the priveledges and entitlements of the elite, then there may, ultimately, be no other way to restore balance and social justice than by revolution, perhaps peacefully as in the case of Egypt, or by other means if that fails.

I wonder how many years it will be before we begin to feel the rumblings here. 5? 10?
Could a time come when, in retrospect, it might seem to some that the repeal of the estate tax among others was, in the end, ill advised? I wonder. Unbridled greed and hubris seem to
be a recurring problem for elite groups as they mature. And, as we look around the world, we can see what the long term results of social inequality have been in places like Egypt and Libya, and the corrective steps nations are ultimately forced to take against the oligarchs in self defense.