Brimfield brush fire out, but Western Massachusetts on alert for additional flare-ups

Brimfield brush fire out, but Western Massachusetts on alert for additional flare-ups

05 April 2012

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USA — BRIMFIELD – The brush fire that burned 52 acres here Wednesday has been knocked down, but dry conditions and ample fuel that fed it remain.

By late Thursday morning, Fire Chief Frederick W. Piechota Jr. said the fire was “pretty much out,” and all seven homes in the fire’s path were saved.

High winds and dry conditions fueled the fire off Paige Hill Road, an area that was hit hard by the June 1 tornado. Piechota said it began Wednesday in the area of 27 Paige Hill Road around noontime, and they are investigating the cause.

It spread northeasterly, to Holland Road, charring tree debris left over from the tornado and October snowstorm.

There were no injuries.

Between 25 and 30 fire departments responded. A National Guard Black Hawk helicopter dropped up to 500 gallons of water at a time on hot spots.

Because there are no hydrants, Piechota said tankers were used to bring water to the site. The state police Air Wing conducted aerial observations to let the firefighters on the ground know which areas were burning.

Piechota said fire crews were able to knock the fire down Wednesday, and operations ended at approximately at midnight. Crews reassembled on Thursday at 6 a.m.

Piechota and Police Chief Charles T. Kuss said there was no official evacuation of homes on Paige Hill Road Wednesday. Piechota said he thought that most of the residents who had left had returned.

“They’ve been through a lot, and this was one more thing,” Piechota said.

Paige Hill Road was especially hard hit by the tornado. Homes that were torn apart by the twister are in the process of being rebuilt.

Though the fire is out, Piechota said the brush fire danger is not over.

“The fuel is still there,” Piechota said, referring to the downed trees.

Downed trees, especially in forested areas, have been a fire concern since the tornado, with officials voicing fears that the dry, dead trees would be especially combustible. Tree debris from an unprecedented October snowstorm and a nearly snow-free winter contributed to dangerous conditions.

A brush fire also burned about 4.5 acres of brush under power lines in Chicopee and threatened one house Thursday afternoon.

The National Weather Service issued a Red Flag warning Wednesday and again Thursday for much of Southern New England including all of Western Massachusetts and Worcester County. The warning, which remains in effect, strongly recommends against outdoor burning, as any fire has the potential to spread rapidly, especially with the combination of strong winds and low humidity over the next few days.

The forecast for the next few days calls for sunny skies and daytime highs in the upper 50s. No rain is forecast until Monday night.

Kuss praised the response from the fire departments, and Piechota said it was “an excellent example of the mutual aid system” in place.

Firefighters were able to stop the fire from spreading by using bulldozers to cut fire breaks around the perimeter of the fire, Piechota said. Two local contractors, as well as Palmer Paving, made the heavy equipment available, so they could bulldoze through the mass of dead trees, he said. This allowed access to the center of the fire.

“That was a great reason, or part of the reason, that we were able to control it, the size that it was,” Piechota said.

“The debris field is still there. This didn’t burn it up .¤.¤. It’s going to be a tremendous problem for years to come,” Piechota said.

Palmer Fire Chief Alan J. Roy, who was serving as district 11 fire coordinator, said he was concerned about the potential for brush fires Wednesday before the blaze was reported. “I said, ‘I hope nothing happens because it’s just going to take off,’” Roy said.

Piechota said no burning permits will be issued in Brimfield “until we get some substantial rain.”

In Chicopee, the fire started at about 3:30 p.m. near Britton and Lavalley Streets and spread over a brushy area under power lines to New Ludlow Road, said Chicopee Deputy Fire Chief Joseph Crevier.

When Crevier arrived, flames were threatening a wood fence at 168 Britton St. Until a tanker truck arrived, Crevier used the resident’s garden hose to fight the flames.

“The wind was against us and it was so dry it was spreading faster than the initial trucks could keep up with it,” he said. There was also a lot of downed timber on the side of the power lines that gave the fire more fuel, he said.

It took about 20 firefighters from Chicopee nearly 90 minutes to get the brush fire under control, Crevier said. Chicopee was assisted by South Hadley Fire Districts 1 and 2, which were able to stop the fire from spreading at New Ludlow Road. Firefighters from Holyoke and Springfield manned the stations. The cause of the fire is suspicious and is being investigated, Crevier said.

As for future fires, the state Senate recently approved a bill that would protect public employees who are called into service with the State Wildfire Team.

The bill, proposed by Sen. Stephen M. Brewer, D-Barre, would allow public employees to take leaves of absence for up to 21 days from their regular jobs if called up to fight brush fires in Massachusetts or other states. He said the bill is needed to protect workers against employer reprisals.

The bill only covers public employees.

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