Fire Blackens Half of Nature Preserve

MENTOR, Ohio (AP) -- Fire blackened half of a 5-mile-wide marshy nature preserve but spared thousands of homes as firefighters contained 20-foot flames.

Firefighters sent convoys of water trucks through winding suburban streets and dirt roads Monday to dampen brush and contain the wind-swept fire. Because of the muck, they fought the blaze from the marsh edge.

``When I came home, all of this was black,'' said Richard Kruger, 39, surveying the burned vista behind his backyard. He had two garden hoses ready if a smoldering tree stump near his property line flared up.

Despite billowing smoke that darkened the horizon during the afternoon rush hour, there were no evacuations. One firefighter suffered a minor ankle injury.

The cause wasn't determined. Officials said a dry spring had increased the fire risk at the 673-acre Mentor Marsh State Nature Preserve located about 25 miles northeast of Cleveland.

The fire, which started in mid-afternoon Monday, destroyed about 350 to 400 acres of 6-feet tall grasses, Battalion Chief Dale Lewis said. Crews remained on the scene Tuesday morning watching for hot spots.

The grass reeds have an oily base that causes black smoke and fuels flames, Lewis said. The smell of smoke was in the air and falling ash soiled yards and patios.

Mostly managed by the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, the preserve was designated as a National Natural Landmark in 1966 and occupies an abandoned channel of the Grand River.

Harvey Webster, the museum's wildlife resources director, said it was too early to tell whether the fire would affect wildlife and plant life.