EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

May 8, 2014

Brush fires threaten homes

Neighbors thank firefighters for halting flames

By Mike LaBella

---- — HAVERHILL — It was a double challenge for firefighters.

After yesterday’s fire at the Forest Acres apartments was under control, a series of nasty brush fires kept firefighters scrambling to keep flames from reaching homes on nearby Braewood Drive and other streets.

Andy Regan, district fire warden for Essex County, said the region is now in a “very high’’ warning stage for brush and forest fires.

Regan, who was on the fire scene yesterday, said the brush fires affected 29 acres of woodland. But because of the time of year, the fire did not reach down into the soil, which is still wet.

“The humidity (yesterday) was very low, which makes these fuels in the forest more susceptible to fire,” Regan said. “And the winds didn’t help, as it pushed the fire along.”

Fire officials said the brush fires were spread by strong winds. Firefighters were having trouble reaching the fires from the Forest Acres apartments property, so they tried to enter the woods from nearby Cedardale Athletic Club. Police used ATVs to bring water to firefighters battling the brush fires.

“This thing is getting out of control quickly,’’ a firefighter said over the department’s scanner just before 3 p.m. yesterday.

According to reports on the Fire Department scanner, the brush fires stopped at a brook near Cedardale, but then began spreading to either side of the brook. The fires then began spreading back toward the Forest Acres apartments.

Regan said the prime concern was for many homes near the wooded area, but that none were touched by the fire.

Some residents in neighborhoods near the burning apartment building worried that the fire might spread through the woods and threaten their homes.

“My wife and I had gone out for lunch,” said Steve Miller, 47, who lives on Sherwood Drive, just southeast of Forest Acres Drive. “When we came back, we saw the smoke and said, ‘Oh, that’s really close.’

“I came up the hill just to see how far in the woods the fire was,’’ he said. “It was just beginning to push behind the houses here. But the firefighters were already here and did a fantastic job, keeping the fire from spreading to any of the houses. It was great to see our tax dollars paying off.’’

Two fire engine crews from the Bradford section of Haverhill and from Plaistow, N.H., were hooked into a fire hydrant on Braewood Drive, pumping water through hoses extended into the woods to fight the brush fire. Braewood Drive connects with Sherwood Drive.

“When I came down about four hours ago, the fire was 1,000 yards from the houses,” said Firefighter Paul Baxter of the Bradford Fire Station.

“The neighborhood was filled with smoke,’’ he said. “You couldn’t really see the flames off in the distance. But there was a lot of smoke. I’m sure people in the neighborhood were concerned about their homes. We’ve been going nonstop, pumping about 500 gallons a minute.’’

As of 4:30 p.m., the brush fire was under control. Some firefighters who were working the brush fire were packing up and leaving the scene.

Reporter Mark E. Vogler contributed to this story.