Press-Republican

May 4, 2013

Dry weather contributes to wildland fires


Press-Republican

---- — CHAMPLAIN — Twelve fire companies sent crews to a wildland fire on Leggett Road in Champlain on Wednesday.

Fifty or more firefighters put in an afternoon getting it under control.

“Knock on wood, that’s our first one,” said Champlain Volunteer Fire Department Fire Chief Pete Timmons in a phone interview Friday afternoon. “Let’s hope that’s our last.” 

It wasn’t the first the Champlain fire company helped put out this season, though.

Over the past few weeks, a number of fires sparked in fields and forest in Clinton County, and Timmons’s department has responded as mutual aid — as have many others — to put them out. 

“It’s very dry out there, and stuff that turns green has not turned green yet, and there is high potential for fires to start and grow quickly,” Clinton County Emergency Services Director Eric Day said on Friday.

HOUSE, BARN BURNS

A blistering blaze Friday underscored his words when a vacant house and barn in Chazy were destroyed in short order.

The first call to Chazy Volunteer Fire Department at 11:54 a.m. was for a possible wildland fire. But firefighters arrived at the location near the intersection of Reynolds and Lake Shore roads to find the buildings fully involved, Chazy Fire Chief Mike Cahoon said. 

Departments from Beekmantown, West Chazy, Mooers, Altona, Champlain and Rouses Point provided assistance, though an initial call for a tanker task force was canceled after personnel was able to draw water from nearby Lake Champlain to douse the flames. 

FIRE BAN CONTINUES

A statewide ban on open fires remains in effect until May 15.

All open burning is prohibited in the state except barbecue grilling with propane, charcoal or untreated wood; small campfires with untreated wood; burning organic agricultural waste; and disposal of a flag or religious items; as well as a few other circumstances, according to the State Department of Environmental Conservation.

The ban outlaws the burning of household trash and leaf piles.

Day said if residents follow the law, the number of grass fires will diminish.

“This happens every year, and right now we are in that window where it is very dry with no rain, warm air temperatures, low humidity and nothing is green,” he said.

“All of that contributes to fires and helps them burn faster.”

ASHES IN COMPOST

There have been only a few brush fires so far this season in Essex County, according to Donald Jaquish, emergency services director and fire coordinator there.

Recently though, a summer home on Stickney Bridge Road was destroyed by fire.

“Nobody was harmed,” Jaquish said. “It was a nice home, but it completely burned.”

He said cause of the fire had likely been from ashes that had been dumped in a compost pile nearby.

“People need to watch where they dump their ashes,” Jaquish said. “That (the ash) can stay hot for many days.”

Franklin County had seen just one brush fire so far this spring, in Westville Friday afternoon.

Fire control there said it was quickly contained.

EXCAVATOR HELPED

A farmer had been burning brush off Leggett Road in Champlain when the wildland blaze started there, Timmons said.

“He did all he was supposed to do,” the fire chief said. “He had dirt cleared all the way around (the brush pile), no vegetation ...”

It is not illegal for farmers to burn brush, he noted.

A gust of wind blew the burning brush that started that fire, which crept into the woods, Timmons said. 

Along with fire crews, the State Department of Environmental Conservation and a forest ranger responded.

And the farmer put his excavator to work, moving around the perimeter of the fire and piling dirt to contain it.

That was a big help, the chief said.

Sometimes, he noted, wildland fires are sparked by the simple toss of a burning cigarette.

Within minutes of expressing his hope that his department would have to handle no other blazes due to dry conditions, the scanner sounded, calling the fire company to a wildland fire on Lakeland Drive in Champlain.

Find more information on outdoor burning at www.dec.ny.gov.

Contributing Writer Darina Naidu and News Editor Suzanne Moore contributed to this report.