By Kim West
James McClung was returning from an errand when he noticed animals skittering away from the woods that surround an unoccupied lot across from his grandmother’s home.
“I had gone out to pick up a piece of plywood when I saw a bunch of animals come across the road,” McClung said. “So I went over to the lot and saw big flames shooting out, and then I called the fire department.”
At approximately 2 p.m. Tuesday, an uncontained outside fire was reported in the lot located across from 24691 McClung Lane, which is less than a mile north of the intersection of Jefferson and Elm streets.
The blaze spread west into the woods and crept toward the tool shed behind the home of Derek Malone on McClung Lane and emitted a thick, acrid odor because the fire started amid a pile of drain covers, large green PVC pipes and tires.
“The burn pile set on fire and set the adjacent woods on fire,” Athens Fire and Rescue Battalion Chief David Andrews said.
A pair of AFR pickup trucks and Engines No. 1 and No. 2 responded to the scene, and within 30 minutes firefighters were able to put out the blaze in the woods and prevent the fire from spreading on an unseasonably warm afternoon, although a slight breeze carried the smoke through the surrounding neighborhoods and along Alabama 127.
McClung said the lot is owned by a local business that regularly leaves fires unattended to burn leftover parts. He said the fires often cause a thick layer of smoke to permeate the neighborhood.
“We noticed it smoking two or three hours ago (before the fire was reported),” said James’ brother, Justin McClung. “But they do stuff out there all the time.”
The owner of the lot was identified by several McClung Lane residents as a local contractor, but the connection could not be confirmed by other sources.
The fire was stopped less than 10 feet from Malone’s tool shed, which is directly behind his home. There were no injuries at the scene, according to onlookers and firefighters on the scene.
The owner of the lot did not obtain a burn permit for the brush pile, according to emergency officials. Athens Prevention Chief James Hand said burn permits typically cover only the burning of leaves and wood and do not allow the burning of tires and pipes.
According to the city of Athens website, burn permits must be obtained between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. and include the location, nature of the material to be burned and the time of the burn.
Emergency officials reported the fire re-kindled at approximately 4:29 p.m. Firefighters returned to the scene, which was cleared again within 30 minutes.