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Turnpike Crews Divert Traffic From Massive Mountain Fire


There are few calls the PA Turnpike’s Traffic Operations Center gets that are more alarming than this – a mountain fire is heading your way.

That’s exactly what happened April 13. But with some quick thinking and fast action, there was no danger to travelers as fire crews battled the Luzerne County blaze, Turnpike Traffic Emergency Management Specialist Bill Howard said. 

"Meteorologically, the conditions were just right for wildland fires last week,” Howard said. “With very, very low humidity and wind gusts in 20s, it’s easy for fields to burn and ignite quickly.

The first call of a fire near the Turnpike’s Northeastern Extension came through the ops center around 3 p.m. that day, around the time District 5 Maintenance Operations Manager Shawn Hill was conducting a pavement survey review. 

“I was watching the fire through the day, and I could see it getting closer and closer,” said Hill, who has been involved with the fire service for more than 30 years and knew it didn’t look good. 

Less than two hours later, the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources called the ops center again to say the fire had jumped their lines and was heading toward I-476. 

Hill said the Turnpike worked with DCNR, which gave them enough time to call in 13 Maintenance crew members and five supervisors to close the 20-mile stretch of highway between the Pocono and Wyoming Valley interchanges. Once closed and all travelers had exited, Hill gave DCNR the “good to go,” and they got to work digging trenches and igniting a backburn of vegetation near the Turnpike to try to stop the blaze from spreading to the highway. 

The Turnpike also deployed Safety 5 with a FotoKite to survey the fire, giving this eye-in-the-sky view.


fire pic 3


FotoKite video of mountain fire (

The Operations Center shared these images and videos with DCNR to help them study the fire.

Hill pointed out while this was happening, a tractor-trailer overturned near Clarks Summit, which required a hazmat response. That pulled away some crew members and had the Turnpike dealing with two large-scale emergencies within a 30-mile stretch of highway.

By 4 a.m., DCNR fought the fire back from the highway, and the smoke conditions had cleared, allowing Maintenance crews to open the highway once again.

In total, the fire burned 4,376 acres, Howard said, and fire crews worked through the weekend extinguishing any remaining hotspots.

Both Howard and Hill said fighting the fire and keeping the Turnpike’s travelers safe came down to solid teamwork and dedicated crews.