Dry Spring Ignites Brush Fires in Upper Valley
Reading, Vt., firefighter Eric Joyal, left, sprays water on a hot spot as Windsor Lt. Tim Lang moves to a different area at a brush fire in Mt. Ascutney State Park yesterday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)
Hartford Fire Lt. Shawn Hannux, left, gets the attention of Windsor Fire Lt. Andy Vinopal, right, to tell him the stump he is cutting has reignited in Windsor yesterday. The brush fire in Mt. Ascutney State park was one of several in the area yesterday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)
Reading, Vt., Fire Chief Gary Vittum monitors a team of firefighters as they work to clean up a brushfire in Mt. Ascutney State Park. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)
Ascutney — A spring with little rain has left the ground covered under a dangerous mix of dead grass and dry leaves that has made conditions ripe for brush fires — and that’s exactly what happened yesterday as four separate fires broke out in the Upper Valley, burning ground cover and trees.
“We have been dreading something like this,” Windsor Fire Chief Mark Kirko said at the scene of one of the fires that scorched a wooded hillside in Mt. Ascutney State Park along Route 44A.
Kirko said when they first arrived he was concerned about having enough resources at his disposal because of another fire in Ascutney. There were fires also in Cornish and Hartford.
“They seemed to have hit all at once,” Kirko said, adding that the flames at the state park jumped one of the fire lines firefighters initially dug.
While firefighters from Windsor, Hartland and Reading were extinguishing the last of the flames about 100 yards up the slope at Mt. Ascutney State Park, crews from other towns were battling another fire several miles to the south in Wilgus State Park in Ascutney.
Fire trucks from 10 different towns as far south as Bellow Falls and Rockingham responded to the blaze that raced up a steep hill on the western side of the road.
“Flames were six feet high when we arrived,” Ascutney Fire Chief Darrin Spaulding said. “Some fire got up into the trees about 30 feet up. We hoofed it up the hill and got to it on the left and right flanks.”
The call came in just before 1 p.m. and the fire was under control by 2:30. Spaulding said the flames were moving quickly and when the fire crested the hill, it continued to move through the woods.
Because of the steep terrain, Spaulding said they brought in firefighters and equipment on all-terrain vehicles from Tenney Hill Road to attack the fire from the top of the hill.
In Cornish, a call came in around 2:30 for a brush fire on the eastern side of Route 12A just north of the Cornish-Windsor Covered Bridge.
“It was on a pretty steep hillside that shoots up from the (Connecticut) river,” said Cornish Deputy Fire Chief Paul Whalen last night. “Fortunately we caught it before it got far up into the woods. If it went for much longer it would have been a different scenario. Conditions are such that they can go pretty quickly.”
Kirko and Spaulding said they would have crews remain on scene for a few hours hosing down the area and then felling some trees.
With no hydrants on site, tanker trucks were used to bring in water and hoses were run up the hills on either side of the fires. Fire rakes were also employed to clear away brush and create fire lines.
“We seem to have her under control,” said Kirko around 2:30. “There are just a lot of trees that have to fall to be sure it is out.”
Spaulding said in particularly hot, dry conditions the fire can work its way into the ground and the root systems of trees.
As for the causes, in Ascutney, where three acres were charred, Spaulding said a witness saw some motorcyclists smoking in a small turnoff at the base of the hill where the fire started. At the Mt. Ascutney State Park fire, which was less than a mile north of the park entrance, Kalem Taft said he was driving by when he saw some small flames in the woods next to the road.
“I called 911 right away,” said Taft. “The wind just took it right up the hill.”
In a news release yesterday, Lars Lund, the State Forest Fire Supervisor warned residents of the dangers posed by the current weather pattern that has left the main fuel for fires — dead grass, leaves and brush — dangerously dry.
Lunds said the main cause of these fires is flames escaping from open burning by homeowners, for which permits must be obtained.
Patrick O’Grady can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.