by James Rada, Jr.
The Year Catoctin Mountain Burned
During 1920, Catoctin Mountain was plagued by fires that burned thousands of acres across both the eastern and western sides of the mountain.
The first fires started at the end of March. “It is said that the flames started along the Jefferson road and attracted very little attention until about 3 o’clock yesterday afternoon,” the Frederick News reported. “Passengers on the late train stated that the fire extended east and west across the mountain, a distance of nearly two miles.”
One fire started near the land of Harry Hickman near Point of Rocks and burned north. It was reported to be at least a mile wide. Meanwhile, a second fire started near Weverton and also burned north.
Individual farms and Hall Town, a small town where African Americans lived, were threatened by the spreading fires.
“The reflection was seen for miles and vivid along the road leading from Jefferson in Point of Rocks,” the Frederick Post reported.
That evening, people in the area took matters into their own hands. “Early in the evening, the fire became so threatening that a number of tenants on mountain farms went out and fought the flames,” the Frederick Post reported.
They succeeded and got the fire under control. It was estimated that over 100 acres burned. The following month, another fire broke out beyond Catoctin Fire. Fire Warden Martin Freshour noticed a cloud of smoke on May 9. He investigated the source and discovered the fire. The problem was the wind was fanning the flames.
He called for help, and he and 50 assistants established a two-mile-long fire line to check the fire’s advance, as they worked to put it out. They were hampered in their efforts when another smaller fire broke out near Foxville on May 10.
The fire wardens managed to bring the fire under control on May 12, but not before more than 2,500 acres burned.
In June, another fire broke out on the mountain in an area called Rattlesnake Hill.
District Forester C. Cyril Klein summoned 15 assistants to help him fight the fire. He quickly realized that he needed more help. Joseph Thropp, owner of the Catoctin Furnace property brought in a dozen men to help, and Fire Warden Albert Hauver brought in another dozen men.
The problem with the fire was that it was driving hundreds, if not thousands, of animals away from the fire.
“The snakes became so numerous that District Forester C. Cyril Klein had difficulty in keeping the firefighters on the job,” the Catoctin Clarion reported.
The snakes became so distracting that three firefighters had to be diverted from fighting the fire to killing the rattlesnakes that came too close to the other firefighters.
By the time the men got the fire under control, more than 300 acres had been burned.
It was a dangerous year on Catoctin Mountain, and luckily, although timber and crops burned, no lives were lost.