Two separate brush fires Sunday (May 13) kept firefighters busy. Despite spectacular flames at one site, the blazes didn’t injure anyone or damage property.
At 2:45 p.m., a large brush fire was reported at the reservoir adjacent to Mansfield Hollow State Park off Bassetts Bridge Road. Flames sometimes reached heights of 15 to 20 feet.
Roughly three acres were damaged by the flames, according to Capt. Uri Lavitt of Mansfield Fire Department Station 207.
He said the inferno’s location, set back from the road, cause headaches for responders.
North Windham, Windham Center, Chaplin and Willimantic fire departments were called in to assist Mansfield at the scene.
The fire was “quite a distance from the road,” Lavitt said and firefighters struggled to gain access. The fire broke out on a peninsula jutting into the reservoir. To keep it from spreading, firefighters established a “fire line,” Lavitt said.
A fire line is a strip of land that is cleared so that a fire doesn’t have the fuel to burn beyond it.
Firefighters cleared a strip of land about 20 feet wide and then, “let the end of the peninsula just burn out,” Lavitt said.
The firefighters then soaked the peninsula with water pumped from the park’s lake.
Flames that sometimes jumped to heights of 15 to 20 feet destroyed some trees. “The pine trees went quickly,” Lavitt said.
Firefighters spent about two and a half hours intensively fighting the fire, Lavitt said.
While there has been a good deal of rain over the past few weeks, other conditions contribute to brush fires, said Mansfield Deputy Fire Chief William Jordan.
“We’ve had a lot of rain but, unfortunately, the relatively humidity has been so dry,” Jordan said. He added that a dry wind “accelerated” the fires Sunday.
The cause of the fire is still unknown and Lavitt said, due to the nature of the fire, “it would be very difficult to figure out where it originated.”
Someone in a kayak or canoe might have stopped at the peninsula and made a campfire, then extinguished it incompletely and left. It would be possible, Lavitt said, “to accidentally start something and not even realize it.”
The dispatch to Bassetts Bridge Road was not the only call for Mansfield firefighters on Sunday; another brush fire, smaller in scope, crept through a pine grove in Mansfield Depot earlier that afternoon.
The cause of that fire is also unknown, but the blaze blackened about half an acre of ground in the dense woods behind 101 Depot Road, according to Lavitt. “It moved quickly along the ground,” he said.
The fire stayed low, with flames reaching only about 12 inches off the ground, and most trees remained unharmed, Lavitt said.
The fire came within 50 feet of a fence where Mansfield Depot resident Megan Meikle’s three horses are kept, before it was discovered and extinguished.
The horses were unfazed by the experience, Meikle said.
Three fire trucks and a forestry vehicle were dispatched to the scene at 2:20 p.m. after a neighbor, Derri Owen, noticed the smoke and called 911.
Owen said she noticed smoke as she was walking home from the nearby Willimantic River along the Lynch Landing path.
The Meikles, who had smelled smoke earlier in the day, rushed home when notified.
“We thought it was a barbecue this morning, so we didn’t do anything,” said Meikle’s 9-year-old daughter Allison Meikle.
“When I first smelled it, that’s what I thought, too,” Owen said.
“But then I thought, it doesn’t smell like a cookout. It smells more like burning brush,” she said.
“It was just the edges that were going when we got there, really,” said Lavitt.
The firefighters wet the ground down several times to ensure the fire was completely extinguished. No other fire departments were on scene at this fire.
Posted May 14, 2012, as edited by HTNP.com Editor Brenda Sullivan with additional reporting by Staff Writer Michelle Firestone
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