By Doug Ireland
---- — Strong winds, falling leaves and unusually dry weather have sparked concern about fast-moving brush fires breaking out in Southern New Hampshire.
Those concerns have become a reality for some local fire departments, including Windham, Derry and Pelham.
Crews from several towns helped Windham firefighters battle a stubborn brush fire that burned about an acre of woods off Bear Hill Road yesterday and Monday.
Approximately a dozen firefighters helped keep the fire in check for nearly four hours Monday night. A crew of another dozen firefighters returned about 8:30 a.m. yesterday to hose down and dig up hot spots for an additional four hours, Windham Fire Chief Thomas McPherson said.
“It just became very labor intensive,” he said.
Several days without rain — combined with high winds and dried-out, falling leaves — are to blame, McPherson said.
“The concern for us is the dryness,” he said. “The leaves are coming down and it just adds to the fuel load.”
The fire Monday, which broke out about 4 p.m., spread beneath the ground, so it had to be attacked with hoses, shovels and rakes to prevent it from traveling farther, McPherson said.
After the fire was under control and it became dark, firefighters left for the night, planning to check on it yesterday morning. But shortly before firefighters arrived, a neighbor reported seeing smoke in the woods.
Firefighters from Londonderry, Pelham, Salem and Derry helped fight the fire or cover Windham’s station over the two-day period.
It was just one of many brush fires reported in New Hampshire’s southern tier since last week, according to Capt. John Dodge, regional forest ranger for the state Division of Forests and Lands.
“It’s been high fire danger through this week and last week,” Dodge said. “Out of 10 days, eight of them have been high fire danger.”
That danger began to subside across the state yesterday, he said. Potential fire danger is ranked on a scale from 1 to 5, with 5 being the highest. While Monday was a Class 3 day, with high fire danger, yesterday was a Class 2 day, with moderate danger, he said. A layer of frost and temperatures in the 20s yesterday morning helped reduce the risk. That risk could be reduced even further this morning with the National Weather Service calling for a chance of rain and snow showers. But if the sun comes out and dries up grass, leaves and other vegetation, there could still be moderate fire danger until Friday, when heavy rain is expected, McPherson said.
“There is still a concern, and there will be until we get some rain,” he said.
People with burning permits must still take precautions, especially since fires can quickly spread, McPherson said.
Some towns, such as Derry, stopped offering burning permits to residents because of the dry conditions.
Battalion Chief David Hoffman of the Derry Fire Department said his crews have responded to at least three small brush fires since last week. Usually, there is no more than one brush fire a week — if any — at this time of year, he said.
“When they get going, they go fast,” he said. “We’ve been concerned, but we’ve been lucky. It’s a little unusual.”
There have also been two small brush fires in Pelham since last weekend, according to Firefighter Patrick Weaver. Across the state border, a brush fire burned a couple of acres in Lawrence on Monday night.