Spring Brings Heightened Danger of Brush Fires

Derry Fire Chief Michael Gagnon warned this past week about the danger of brush fires, which will be strong until more trees “green up” and leaf out.

Gagnon said the danger is acute when there are fewer leaves on the trees, as there is nothing to keep the sun from the potential “fuel” of dried branches, old leaves and other material on the ground. And there are more of those than usual due to an unusually long, cold and windy winter, he added.

Gagnon said the prevalence of brush fires can be traced to two sources: careless disposal of smoking materials, most generally from a moving car, and un-extinguished campfires.

“The surface fuels are drier and the fires spread more quickly,” he said. “It has been a difficult winter and a lot of branches are down and drying out.”

Gagnon urged residents to fully extinguish their controlled brush fires or campfires.

In addition, he said, it helps to keep dried combustible materials away from the home.

Residents may check for the day’s fire safety rating at their local fire station or on the electronic sign at the Central Fire Station in Derry. According to the New Hampshire Division of Forests and Lands, the following classifications exist:

• Class 1, Low. Fires are not likely, it may be raining.

• Class 2, Moderate. Fires are possible in light fuels, day after a rain.

• Class 3, High. Fires in open areas and sunny slopes may spread rapidly.

• Class 4, Very High. Fires start easily from all causes; fires spread and increase in intensity rapidly; spot fires occur; fire will burn deep, except in the spring.

• Class 5, Extreme. Fires will spread very rapidly with severe spotting; difficult to extinguish, mop-up requires a great deal of effort.

People who don’t practice fire safety are also in danger of being fined. According to a brochure from the Division of Forests and Lands, it is illegal to:

• Burn brush or other materials when the ground is not covered by snow without a written fire permit from the Forest Fire Warden.

• Kindle certain categories of fires between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m. except when raining. When raining, a fire permit is still required. Those wanting to start a fire should check with their local Forest Fire Warden to determine allowable burning times.

• Kindle a fire for any purpose on land of another without written permission of the owner or owner’s agent and a written permit from the Forest Fire Warden of the town, except in authorized recreational areas where suitable fireplaces are approved by the Forest Fire Warden

• Fail to totally extinguish any fire before leaving it.

• Discard matches, cigarettes or other burning substances from vehicles or otherwise.

• Throw any flammable waste material on, near, or adjacent to a public highway or private way in or near woodlands.

• Fail to report a forest or brush fire or fail to respond to a Forest Fire Warden’s call for assistance.

Gagnon’s words proved prophetic, as the Derry Fire Department responded to a brush fire one day after his phone interview. The fire was called in at 11:08 a.m. Thursday, April 16, and the crews responded, heading out to 67 Bypass 28. According to a press release by Battalion Chief Michael Doyle, the companies arrived to find a brush fire under the power lines and extending rapidly toward a single-family home.

A small outbuilding housing communication equipment was fully involved and a primary power line had fallen across the roadway, Doyle wrote. The size of the fire was approximately a quarter acre, and Bypass 28 was briefly closed.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, but is thought to have been started by the downed power line.

At the time of the fire two ambulances and a fire engine were already committed to requests for emergency services. Four fire engines, two forestry units, two tankers and a command vehicle responded, including mutual aid from Londonderry and Hooksett. The fire was brought under control at 11:57 a.m.

Station coverage was provided by Chester, Hudson, Salem and Plaistow.

In his press release, Doyle again asked residents to be careful in disposing of smoking materials and to follow outdoor fire permit requirements and regulations.