Brush Fires Burn, Rekindle; Mutual Aid Called In

As a brush fire in the Symphony Lane area remained a challenge, Derry Fire Chief Michael Gagnon reminded residents to observe the burning permit ban until the needed rains come to the area.

The fire was first noted on Sept. 2, when Fire Dispatch was alerted to a brush fire near the power lines in the area of Pingree Hill Road. Crews responded immediately, Gagnon said, and found a 2-acre area behind 2 Symphony Lane ablaze.

“We had everyone on duty, plus mutual aid, plus personnel from New Hampshire Forest and Lands,” Gagnon said.

The initial response was by Engine 1, Task Force 2 and a battalion chief. Due to the difficult terrain, off-road “gator” units were provided by Chester and Auburn, along with an additional Forestry unit and Forestry tanker from Chester.

The crews reported the 2 acres ablaze with wind-driven fire in dry conditions, and another Forestry unit from Derry was supplied. Londonderry, Hooksett and Atkinson provided fire engines and manpower; Auburn, Candia and Hampstead provided tankers to shuttle water; and eventually 26 firefighters battled the blaze.

Station coverage was provided by Salem, Hudson and Londonderry.

Approximately 25,000 gallons of water were used, Gagnon reported, and one mutual aid firefighter was treated and released for heat exhaustion.

Another brush fire was reported the same day in the area of Ballard Pond. A Salem engine and off-duty personnel from Derry responded and found less than an acre burning.

A Salem forestry unit, Sandown tanker, Windham forestry unit, Raymond tanker, Chester forestry tanker and Candia tanker were redirected from the Symphony Lane fire to Ballard Pond, with 10,000 gallons of water and 20 firefighters used to contain this fire.

No structures were damaged in either fire, and no personnel beyond the firefighter treated for heat exhaustion were injured.

During this period, Gagnon said, mutual aid companies responded to four other incidents.

But it was far from over.

Crews went back Wednesday night, Sept. 3, to check on the fire, found a couple of “hot spots” and worked to extinguish them, Gagnon said. They found more hot spots on the morning of Thursday, Sept. 4, and attempted to extinguish them.

By Saturday night, Sept. 6, there was a new burn in the Pingree Hill/ Symphony Lane area.

“This kind of fire burns down deep,” Gagnon explained. “It travels along the tree root system underground, and can reignite as far as 100 feet away.”

On Saturday all Derry companies on duty responded, along with Windham, Chester and Auburn. The Salvation Army came with its canteen and other aid, and residents of the area pitched in. The Rodgers family, owners of 2 Symphony Lane, were especially helpful, Gagnon said, with providing material assistance and allowing fire crews to access the area through their property.

Crews continued to look for hot spots Sunday morning, afternoon and early evening, with a significant fire breaking out later Sunday evening. This brought all the Derry companies out again, with 25,000 gallons of water needed to subdue the blaze. More hot spots were noted on Monday morning, afternoon and evening, Sept. 7, with crews treating them as they popped up.

By Monday night the fire appeared to be extinguished, Gagnon said, but he’s not taking any chances and will send crews out to the area “every two or three hours until it rains.”

Gagnon noted that illegal campfires are suspected as the cause of both fires. Residents are reminded that wooded areas are dry right now and are urged to use caution with open flames. A permit to kindle a fire is always required unless there is a 100-foot radius of complete snow cover in the area where the fire is to be kindled.

While Gagnon’s department will not issue burn permits until there’s a soaking rain, he took the opportunity to remind residents that campfires must be completely extinguished. If not, he said, “they can burn deep in the soil.”

While this fire used a significant amount of mutual aid, Gagnon said the use of neighboring companies had no correlation to recent budget cuts for his department. “This fire,” he said, “would have required mutual aid whether or not the Hampstead Road station was operative.” The Hampstead Road station closed July 1 due to budget cuts.

Derry used mutual aid 13 times in July compared to 18 times in July 2014, “so that actually went down,” Gagnon said. But in August 2014 Derry used mutual aid four times, compared to 17 times this August.

In August 2014 the department responded to 257 calls and in August 2015, 383 calls. “The call volume has gone up,” Gagnon said.

The number of times Derry has gone out on mutual aid calls to other communities is holding its own, with 17 mutual aid calls in July 2014 and 16 in July 2015. The department helped other communities five times in August 2014 and seven times in August 2015, he said.

Gagnon noted that 52 percent of the calls this July and August were simultaneous calls, meaning the department already had personnel committed to another incident.

But that doesn’t mean that they are calling mutual aid, he added. It just means that of the 12 firefighters on a regular shift, some of the resources are already committed.

Gagnon also expressed a deep appreciation for mutual aid. “The system works very well, and we are grateful whenever another community responds,” he said.