EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

Merrimack Valley

April 4, 2013

Fire officials on high alert

High winds, lots of downed trees and extremely dry conditions have sparked concern at area fire departments.

The beginning of brush fire season in the Merrimack Valley and Southern New Hampshire has fueled worries that a single cigarette or any small flame could scorch acres of land and possibly spread to buildings.

It’s only early April and even though there’s still a little snow in some areas, brush fires have been reported in communities such as Lawrence, Methuen, Londonderry, Pelham and Chester.

While firefighters were battling a blaze that destroyed three homes in Lawrence Saturday, a crew from North Andover had to be called in extinguish a brush fire.

Strong wind gusts this week prompted declaration of a Class 4 fire danger in Massachusetts yesterday, meaning the danger was “very high.” Class 1 is the lowest level and Class 6 the highest.

That meant permitted burns were outlawed in many communities, including Andover and Methuen, because even small fires could quickly spread out of control.

“April is usually when we have the most brush fires,” said Jennifer Mieth, spokeswoman for the Massachusetts Department of Fire Services. “This is the time of the year when we are always very concerned.”

In New Hampshire, the state Division of Forest and Lands declared yesterday a Class 2 day, meaning there was moderate danger and permitted burns were OK.

But many local fire chiefs weren’t about to take a chance, banning the burning of brush and other yard debris for the day. Derry was one exception, allowing small fires.

But even with a ban in place, any type of fire could lead to devastating consequences because of strong winds yesterday, fire officials said. Gusts were expected to reach up to 41 mph in some areas.

“We’re keeping our fingers crossed on days like today with the wind the way it is,” acting Londonderry fire Chief Darren O’Brien said. “The wind has been fierce the last two days.”

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