By CHELSEY POLLOCK
Union Leader Correspondent
REGION -- Without snow on the ground or leaves on the trees to block the sun, local fire officials say conditions will be ideal for brush fires in the coming weeks.
“Right now everything’s drying up on the surface because there’s no leaves on the trees to stop the sunlight from hitting the forest bed,” said Derry Fire Battalion Chief Michael Gagnon. “Things haven’t really greened up yet, so as we go through the next few weeks and get some more rain, the fire danger starts to go down.”
On Sunday, Derry firefighters responded to reports of a brush fire in the unoccupied land behind Walnut Hill Road and Adams Pond Road, said Gagnon.
Firefighters spent about four hours putting out that fire, he said, ultimately using all-terrain vehicles from the Chester Fire Department to access the three to four acres involved in the fire several miles away from the main road.
Gagnon said Sunday’s incident was this season’s first brush fire in Derry.
Salem has seen several minor brush fires so far this year, including one at about 6 a.m. on Monday near Kimball Avenue, where flames affected a 30-foot-by-100foot area of brush and grass, said Salem fire Capt. Stephen McKenna on Monday.
Working in firefighters’ favor is the fact that the deeper parts of the ground have yet to completely dry out, said McKenna.
“It’s burning on top as opposed to burning deep down into the ground,” he said. “The top tends to dry out with the wind, whereas fire doesn’t get deep down yet because it’s still too wet.”
In Londonderry, fire Capt. Fred Heinrich said the department has already seen seven brush fires, though most were minor. Last week, about four acres of grass caught fire off Pettengill Road in Londonderry, he said.
“For the last couple we’ve had, it was most likely started from people having careless use of fire, either kids using fire for cooking or careless disposal of smoking materials,” said Heinrich.
McKenna said brush or grass fires along Interstate 93 are usually caused by a cigarette tossed out the window of a passing car.
Salem doesn’t issue burning permits during the day, unless it’s raining or there’s snow on the ground, said McKenna. At night, fire officials gauge current conditions and the state’s fire danger rating, and issue permits on a day-to-day basis.
“Usually people are very good when they’re burning brush,” he said. “They have to have a garden hose and they have to be present while it’s burning, and people tend to be pretty good at that.”
Londonderry issues two kinds of fire permits, said Heinrich: one for cooking over an open campfire and the other for burning brush. Brush permits are only allowed in Londonderry if there’s snow cover on the ground or if it is raining, he said.
When state fire officials issue a low fire danger rating, of Class 1 or 2, Derry usually issues burning permits, said Gagnon. With a rating of 4 or 5, no one is allowed to burn, he said.
On in-between days, like Monday at Class 3, the fire commander makes the call. Gagnon prohibited burning on Monday.
“People just need to be aware of what they are doing,” said Gagnon. “If they are riding in a recreational vehicle, make sure there’s no dry vegetation around it. Make sure campfires are fully extinguished, and don’t throw cigarette butts out the window on the side of the road.”
Heinrich said that the best advice for fire safety dates back to early childhood for most.
“It’s nothing that everybody hasn’t always said to you — just be careful,” he said.