‘They’re literally playing with fire’
by Town Reminder
Firefighters from Fire District No. 2 saturate burned brush with water after extinguishing a brush fire which began at 192 Pearl Street Wednesday afternoon.
Fire chief warns against fire pits, open burning on red flag days
By Kristin Will
SOUTH HADLEY – In the past two weeks, both fire districts have responded to three brush fires in the area.
Most recently, a brush fire broke out Wednesday afternoon at 192 Pearl Street from what District No. 2 Fire Chief David Keefe suspects was a flyaway ember.
His department responded at 12:48 p.m. to the home where a backyard abutting a tree-filled ravine was burning. “The family there evidently had a small campfire in a fire pit next to the home encircled by bricks” the night before said Keefe. “The fire burned out but all of the coals and hot embers were left in the fire pit.” He suspects wind in the overnight hours which carried into the afternoon swept the embers into the air to the wooded area immediately adjacent to the home.
A command vehicle, a fire engine, a District No. 2 brush truck and a Department of Conservation brush truck responded to the scene. The brush trucks were filled to their 250-gallon capacity and driven down the home’s long driveway in order to extinguish the flames. Four times the District No. 2 truck went back and forth between the hydrant in the street and the affected area to refill its supply.
One eighth of an acre of land, trees and brush were burned. To combat the flames, firefighters took high-powered leaf blowers and walked around the perimeter of the brush fire, blowing leaves and debris into the fire in a big circle. Simultaneously, firefighters used shovels and rakes to dig a trench down to bare dirt around the fire to create a barrier. All the while, firefighters sprayed water on the flames.
By 1:30 p.m., the flames were extinguished and firefighters remained on scene to saturate the burned area with water and monitor the site.
“Firefighters here are pretty experienced with brush fires because so much of the north part of the Mount Holyoke Range is affected by brush fires,” said Keefe.
On Saturday, April 14, a brush fire broke out on the South Hadley side of the Mount Holyoke Range on the M&M Trail west of Mt. Hitchcock at 4:25 p.m.
Both South Hadley Fire Districts No. 1 and 2 responded with assistance from the Hadley Fire Department. “It was technically in South Hadley but being the neighbors they are, they treated it as if it were their own fire,” said Keefe of Hadley’s assistance. Also aiding in the fight were fire departments from Granby, Chesterfield and Windsor.
Firefighters entered the wooded area via Chmura Road in Hadley. Despite it being a “tough road,” it proved to be the most accessible access point. A total of 40 firefighters ascended the mountain and battled the blaze up top. “It’s very difficult to traverse,” said Keefe. “You get to a point where it just drops right off.”
At one point it was reported smoke could be seen to the west on the range but it was eventually determined there was not a second fire.
Brush trucks, all terrain vehicles, a loader and a large tanker truck from Hadley were utilized at the site. Because there were no fire hydrants easily accessible, water had to be transported in. Keefe called for a helicopter but cancelled their service as it soon grew dark and “we weren’t going to achieve anything,” he said. An ambulance remained on scene to assist firefighters, as the heat was intense and terrain tough. A rehab truck from the Department of Fire Services arrived on scene to fuel the firefighters.
Firefighters dug trenches around the burning area, raked and shoveled the dirt and used chainsaws to cut off burned portions of trees, tossing them into the circled fire. They traversed the rocky area, continuing to spray water to quell the flames. Eventually, firefighters returned to the station at 8 p.m.
In total, two acres of land burned on the mountain. While there is no definite cause of the fire, Keefe speculated a campfire had been left burning, was not properly extinguished or a cigarette butt was improperly discarded.
On April 5, Fire District No. 1 responded via mutual aid to a brush fire in the vicinity of Britton and Lavelle streets in Chicopee. South Hadley crews were stationed on New Ludlow Road protecting homes from the brush fire flames. In less than 10 minutes, the fire was knocked down and crews remained on scene to watch for hot spots.
With conditions as dry they are this season, Keefe emphasizes the importance of watching the weather for red flag warnings, which when raised, prohibit any type of burning. And on those days, Keefe said, “Just don’t have a fire,” referring to not only open burning of brush (which requires permits and is actually prohibited on red flag days), but even small fires in fire pits in the evening hours. “They’re literally playing with fire,” said Keefe of those who take the risk of having a small fire on such days. “You need to listen to us when we say, ‘No fires now.’ We really mean it,” he said. “The surface is so dry and it’s getting dryer every day. If the weather doesn’t change, we’re going to see more brush fires.”
Firefighters rake out and spray water on coals from a previous night’s campfire in a brick fire pit from which Fire Chief David Keefe believes embers floated through the backyard igniting a wooded area nearby.