Despite the considerable statewide devastation wrought by June 29's storm - and the oppressive heat - Tucker County hosted a full-hearted celebration of the Fourth of July in Thomas with its annual Mountaineer Days festival.
The celebration, which drew people from a wide birth, was quintessentially Tuckerian - it was a delightful confluence of tradition and eclecticism that took place June 30.
One of the festival's premier events was the annual "Battle of the Barrel," a competition between teams of firefighters that tests their prowess with a fire hose.
The Inter-Mountain Photo by Joe Hoover
Tucker County’s Mountaineer Days’ ‘Battle of the Barrel’ contest included 18 teams of volunteer firefighters from departments in West Virginia and Maryland. It was held June 30 in Thomas. Pictured here, a team from Davis, left, battles with a team from Parsons as they both try to blast their way to victory by blowing the barrel to their opponent’s side.
For the competition, a barrel is suspended on a long horizontal cable above the ground. The round starts with the barrel positioned in the center of the cable, and then two opposing teams use their high-power hoses to blast the barrel toward their competitor's side; to win, a team must move the barrel all the way to the opposing team's side.
This year, 18 teams from West Virginia and Maryland competed for first place.
Around the battle, crowds of observers - locals and tourists alike - laughed and cheered as the fireman charged forward, hoping to force the barrel over the opposite team's heads.
The sense of festivity was only heightened by the sweltering afternoon heat, as children and adults playfully jostled for a chance to catch a refreshing splash from the fire hoses.
The "Battle of the Barrel" is a perfect example of Tucker County tradition.
Thomas Volunteer Fire Department Chief Joe Dibacco said the battle started 40 years ago, when Thomas challenged Davis to a friendly competition.
"Back then, though, we used the big hoses, and we'd just put a 50-gallon barrel on Main Street," Dibacco said. "We would just have at it and see who won. That was too dangerous though; it's better for everyone with the barrel on the wire."
From its first years, the competition grew to include departments from all around West Virginia and even Maryland.
"People take it really seriously," he said with a laugh.
This year's first- and second-place teams both were from the Gorman Volunteer Fire Department, of Oakland, Md. Apparently, they practice year round, and, most of the time, they win.
The festival also featured fantastic live music, performed in the Miners and Merchants Bank parking lot and the Purple Fiddle.
The performances included everything from rock and country covers to traditional Appalachian music.
Numerous crafters also presented their wares, which ranged from ornate handmade jewelry to home decor and jewelry with an urban-renewal aesthetic that was fashioned from repossessed materials like gift cards and old T-shirts.
One man, Butch Upole, was selling natural-material collages that he painstakingly composed by hand.
His works featured a variety of different naturalistic imagery, from birds resembling golden finches made of dried black-eyed susan petals to detailed log-cabin landscapes built from small twigs, bark and moss.
And, of course, there were lots of fireworks, courtesy of the Thomas Fire Department.
Thomas' streets, parking lots and grassy hills were full of people looking to the sky, waiting for the next explosion of red, blue, green, purple or gold - the only fitting finale for a Fourth of July celebration.