One month later, the terrain has been reclaimed by green.
Neighbors point to this burn pile as the source of prior fires-- and the fateful one.
file photo by hawes spencer
The criminal trial has been pushed back, but the burned fields of Ragged Mountain Farm have recently emerged to look greener than the surrounding fields spared from flames during the recent 609-acre wildfire that began on a wind-whipped Saturday in February.
"That's not surprising," says Sam Lindblom, who burns fields across the Commonwealth as the land program manager for the Virginia Nature Conservancy. Lindblom says the combination of ample rainfall during the spring growing season, black ash to heat the land, and an explosion of nutrients unleashed by the recent flames created a "perfect combination" for rejuvenated fields.
"And whammo," says Lindblom, "that's why it's so green."
Meanwhile, accused fire-starter Alex Toomy has won a continuance on the two charges stemming the blaze. The hearing was to have occurred on Monday, March 28, but his lawyer, Michael Derdeyn, confirms that his client will instead appear for trial on May 31.
At issue is whether Toomy broke state fire law by conducting a brush fire before 4pm and whether his burning practices resulted in the blaze that began around 2pm on February 19 and eventually burned parts of four subdivisions including destroying a building holding a trove of boats and other property.
Some neighbors have suggested that Toomy may not have set any fire on the day in question– that one of his earlier brush fires may have simply erupted during the high winds that peaked that day around 50 miles per hour. Toomy developed the subdivision where the fire began, but since his bankruptcy last year has been relegated to a role widely described as a handyman or farmhand.
Preliminary damage estimates assembled by the Hook put the cost of the blaze around $250,000; so a criminal conviction for Toomy might lead to substantial civil liability. Toomy has declined to return a reporter's phone calls.
The case will be heard in Albemarle General District Court. If convicted, Toomy faces a maximum criminal penalty of $750.
Note: The first two paragraphs were added to this story at 3:30pm on Tuesday, April 5, at which time the words "waived his preliminary hearing" were replaced by the words "won a continuance" to more accurately reflect the General District Court's nomenclature.