Multiple brush fires keep Upper Valley crews busy, warning of dry conditions

By JOHN LIPPMAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 05-20-2023 1:12 PM

HARTFORD — The summer brush fire season has begun — and the beginning of summer is still a month away.

Unseasonably dry spring weather is helping to kindle wildfires around the Upper Valley that caused several town fire departments to spring into action this week, as both New Hampshire and Vermont issued warnings of high fire danger.

“It’s not even summer yet, but we are not issuing burn permits right now,” Hartford Fire Chief Scott Cooney said Friday.

On Thursday, Hartford Fire Department responded to two brush fires a few miles apart, the first on the railroad tracks adjacent to Connecticut River Road in White River Junction and the second in the woods beyond a cluster of homes on Braley Drive, off of Christian Street.

Also on Thursday, dozens of firefighters from departments in both New Hampshire and Vermont responded to a four-alarm fire to battle 4 acres burning in the village of Pike, N.H., that was sparked by remnants blown out of a backyard fire pit.

And in the early Thursday morning hours, fire departments in Enfield and Canaan were called out to douse a fire in Shaker Forest, behind La Salette Shrine on Route 4A in Enfield, on land owned by New Hampshire Fish & Game.

“It’s been very dry and windy, and we’ll be happy to see the rain, which is supposed to come Saturday,” Enfield Fire Chief Phil Neily said Friday.

The burned area was small, about 100 by 200 feet, but the real challenge was accessing the fire, Neily said. Fortunately, Enfield this past winter had refurbished an old rescue truck to carry water to hard-to-reach locations.

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Although the truck has already been made available in two mutual aid calls this spring, Thursday’s brush fire was the first time the unit had been deployed in Enfield. Neily said he thinks the fire might have been sparked by a lightning strike and ruled out human causes.

As a result of the high-risk fire conditions, Enfield stopped issuing burn and campfire permits this past week, but if rain comes this weekend, Neily said, he hopes to be able to lift the ban.

The Pike fire drew more than a half-dozen different fire departments, and Haverhill Fire Chief Phil Blanchard warned that camp and pit fires can be deceptive and require vigilance in extinguishing.

“The owner said he checked it, and the remnants were very low in the pit” the night before, Blanchard said, and assumed the fire had sufficiently been extinguished.

“It’s a good reminder, even if you kindle a fire the day before, that once the sun comes out and we don’t have any humidity, there’s a high chance it could take back off,” Blanchard said.

In Hartford, Cooney said the fire near the railroad tracks was caused by railroad maintenance crew workers who were engaged in “grinding and cutting” operations and was contained to an area of a couple hundred feet.

He described the cause of the brush fire near Braley Drive as “accidental” and dismissed reports circulating among some Hartford residents that it was caused by transients said to be living in a “homeless encampment” in the woods.

“We didn’t see any evidence to suggest an encampment there,” Cooney said, but he declined to comment on other theories about the fire’s origin because it remains under investigation.

The woods that burned in the Hartford fire are on adjacent parcels of land owned by Kristen Connors and Steve Davis, according to Hartford town property records.

Connors and Davis, niece and uncle, are co-owners of manufactured home builder VerMod on Route 5 in Hartford. Connors did not respond to an email seeking comment on Friday.

Contact John Lippman at jlippman@vnews.com.

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