While the winter of 2015-16 was milder than usual, Derry firefighters are still responding to brush fires.
Derry Fire Chief Michael Gagnon said this week that his department has already “had a few” brush fires to deal with.
“Obviously at this time of the year, the leaves aren’t out yet and it will be a few weeks before things ‘green up,’” Gagnon said in a phone interview Friday. With no leaves the sun has been able to get through and dry up the forest bed, leading to an uptick in brush fires.
The frequency is about on par with last year’s, though there was much less snow this year, Gagnon said.
The fires can be from homeowners burning brush or recreational campfires gone amok, according to Gagnon.
Gagnon offered several tips to keep those fires from getting out of control. One is to make sure the fire is completely extinguished – and also any smoking materials. “That,” he said, “is how the lion’s share of our brush fires begin. Someone flicks a cigarette butt from a car.”
Both yard-cleaning and recreational fires need a permit, Gagnon said, and Derry has three levels of permits. Categories 1 and 2 are for a fire that is a 2-foot or less “ring” or a 4-foot or less ring. For either of these, a homeowner can obtain a 12-month permit. The larger fires, 4 feet or more, require a daily permit that can be obtained at any one of Derry’s four fire stations or online. The online service is through the State of New Hampshire and costs $3, according to Gagnon.
Categories 3 and 4 allow burning only from 5 p.m. to 9 a.m., he said. Category 1 burners, with the smallest fires, can burn 24-7.
Derry Fire receives its fire risk information from the New Hampshire Division of Forests and Lands, and it is posted daily on the Web site and on the message board at Central Fire Station.
The categories are further defined on the Fire Web Site as follows:
• “Open Burning” means the burning of any material wherein products of combustion are emitted directly into the ambient air without passing through a stack or chimney from an enclosed container.
• A Category I Fire is a camp or cooking fire no greater than 2 feet in diameter contained within a fire-resistive ring. A Category I fire must be at least 25 feet from structures. This would also include commercially made fire pits, chimneys, and outdoor fireplaces. These fires may be kindled at any time, conditions permitting.
• A Category II Fire is a camp or cooking fire no greater than 4 feet in diameter contained within a fire-resistive ring. A Category II or greater fire must be at least 50 feet from structures. These fires may only be kindled between the hours of 5 p.m. and 9 a.m., unless it is actively raining or the ground is snow covered.
• A Category III Fire means any other fire that is greater than 4 feet in diameter or not contained in a fire-resistive ring, such as an open brush/debris pile fire. These fires may only be kindled between the hours of 5 p.m. and 9 a.m., unless it is actively raining or the ground is snow covered.
• Brush and wood cannot exceed 5 inches in diameter. No household waste, treated wood, or composite materials may be burned. Only clean, untreated, and non-contaminated wood may be burned. No construction debris may be burned.
A spokesperson for the Department of Forests and Lands said the Warner Hill Fire Tower in Derry will be staffed three or more days a week, depending on fire danger.
Gagnon emphasized that no fire is too small. “You will need a permit for any open outside burning,” Gagnon said.
The daily fire danger is also available by calling the state toll-free at 866-643-4737. For more information, visit the Derry Fire Department page on the town Web site at www.derry.nh.us or the Division of Forests and Lands, www.nhdfl.org.