But not in time to help the barn that burned.
But it least the fire has been contained.
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, § 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.
–this story was updated at least 13 times
previous headline: "Barn destroyed: As Ragged Mountain fire chars neighborhoods"