By Amy Chaunt and T.J. Houpes
Brimfield Fire Chief Fred Piechota said fire started small Wednesday afternoon -- behind a residence on Paige Hill Road. He said it then rapidly spread toward the Holland Road area behind the 1 Stop Towing company located in town as winds increased during the course of the day.
"Initially it was our department and two other departments, but when it spread the incident commander called for a task force," he said. "We had roughly 60 personnel working and 25-30 departments that responded."
In addition to Brimfield fire
and police units, units from
the Massachusetts Forest Fire
Control, Massachusetts Department of Fire Services Special Operations, Palmer Fire Department, and Ware Fire Department also helped in controlling the flames. As of noon on Thursday, the fire was out and crews were leaving the operations center which had been set up at the intersection of Paige Hill and Haynes Hill roads.
Early last week, a minor brush fire broke out in Monson on T Peck Road, luckily resulting in little damage to the surrounding area.
“The fire was a result of a homeowner who had been burning during the weekend and didn’t put it out properly,” said George L. Robichaud, the Fire Chief/Forest Fire Warden for the town of Monson. “Dry conditions and wind in the days preceding the fire, and inappropriate extinguishment, ultimately had caused the fire.”
According to Robichaud, warnings are posted by the Monson Fire Department and are based off of 1-5 scale of fire danger days, with one being the lowest and five being the highest. A red flag day signals conditions that are extremely dangerous for burning and more likely to cause fire damage.
“We are kind of in a position where we are dependent on rainfall and it needs to be measurable,” said Robichaud. “The ground is usually wet at this time and in the past, there was a heavy dew and now there is no breeze during the day and anytime you have air movement, it dries things out.”
Fire Chief Piechota echoed these same sentiments in regard to residents in Brimfield.
"The only thing we can do, and did, was prohibit any outside burning," he said. "Brush permits are suspended until further notice until it rains at least a little."
Normally, burning season takes place from Jan. 15 to May 1, but with the red flag conditions still in place for the foreseeable future, it is highly unlikely any burning will take place in either town. The Department of Environmental Protection is responsible for giving out burning permits to residents, and this determination is based on a day-to-day basis, given the weather.
Scott Harris, a former Monson firefighter and current resident, is equally concerned about the hazardous fire conditions created by the weather and the leftover debris. His biggest concern for Monson and the surrounding communities is that some people will be irresponsible and not use common sense when burning debris.
“If you can’t afford a chipper, this is what you do,” said Harris. “But if you have acres and acres of land, that’s tough and burning is an inexpensive way to do it."
Residents with debris still in their yards from the tornado are the ones in highest jeopardy of causing a brush fire.
“The highest fire danger we have is right in the tornado path,” Robichaud said. "These areas have lost foliage coverage with the trees being gone, so with the trees being gone no longer have shade so everything is out and exposed."
With equally dry conditions anticipated this summer, Robichaud highly advised against the decision to burn.
“As for burning this summer, they’re (residents) not."
Photos by T.J. Houpes
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About the authors
Students in Steve Fox's Investigative Journalism & the Web class at UMass-Amherst have teamed up with the Globe to take a close-up look at the painful process of rebuilding from the June 2011 tornadoes that killed four and devastated communities in the Springfield area. Their work will also appear in the Boston Globe. Steve joined the journalism faculty at UMass-Amherst in 2007 and has 25 years of experience as an editor and reporter for print and online publications, including 10 as an editor at The Washington Post's award-winning website.