Significant drought heightens Vineyard fire risk

During National Fire Prevention Week, state puts a spotlight on wildfire dangers. 

State officials are warning Vineyarders and residents of other southeastern Massachusetts areas that persistent dry conditions have elevated the risk of wildfire. - Rich Saltzberg

Months of below average rainfall have resulted in significant drought conditions for Martha’s Vineyard. Those conditions elevate fire risks, according to a recent release from the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs (EEA). That office has sought to point out those risks in conjunction with Fire Prevention Week.

“Extended drought conditions have rendered grasses, shrubs and forest fuels very dry across most of the state, and extremely dry in areas of the Southeast, resulting in increased wildfire risk and added challenges for firefighting agencies,” a release states. “Leaf and pine needle drop is starting to add to the surface fuel loads, which will challenge the containment of ongoing fires. These conditions exhaust local resources and increase risk to firefighter safety.  Fire officials remind the public to be very aware of this situation, and to be careful with all open burning and disposal of combustible materials.”

October 9 marks the heart of Fire Prevention week, a national awareness and observance week. The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) in Quincy has sponsored public observance of Fire Prevention Week since 1922. 

“In 1925, President Calvin Coolidge proclaimed Fire Prevention Week a national observance, making it the longest-running public health observance in our country,”  the NFPA website states. “During Fire Prevention Week, children, adults, and teachers learn how to stay safe in case of a fire. Firefighters provide lifesaving public education in an effort to drastically decrease casualties caused by fires. Fire Prevention Week is observed each year during the week of October 9th in commemoration of the Great Chicago Fire, which began on October 8, 1871, and caused devastating damage. This horrific conflagration killed more than 250 people, left 100,000 homeless, destroyed more than 17,400 structures, and burned more than 2,000 acres of land.”

“During Fire Prevention Week, and with continued drought-like conditions throughout the Commonwealth, state officials also urge residents to remain diligent in their efforts to prevent a wildland fire and to take common sense safety measures when using outdoor fire pits, grills, and other open flames,” according to the EEA release. 

 The release points out approximately 98 percent of wildland fires in Massachusetts are caused by people and could have been prevented. 

“Warm and dry weather conditions, along with an increase in combustible fuels, such as leaf litter and dead wood debris, are ideal for wildland fires to ignite and spread rapidly,” the release states. “So far this year, 1,078 wildland fires have occurred throughout the state with approximately 729 burned acres. In comparison, 2019 had 281 wildland fires with 248 burned acres and 2018 had 1,021 wildland fires with 484 burned acres.”

State Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey issued a warning that fireworks are both illegal and dangerous in such dry conditions. 

“There have been a number of wildland fires caused by illegal fireworks,” he said through the release. “We remind people that having, using, buying or transporting fireworks is illegal in Massachusetts. Even a small firework could start at large brush fire especially in these extremely dry conditions.”

 

In order to prevent wildfires, per the release, residents are asked to:

  • Exercise caution when using charcoal grills, matches, and other open flames during outdoor activities.
  • Before setting up a campfire or any other outdoor burning, be sure it is permitted and at least 25 feet away from any structure and anything that can burn.
  • Clear away dry leaves and sticks, overhanging low branches and shrubs.
  • Avoid burning on windy, dry days.
  • Never use gasoline or other flammable or combustible liquids.
  • Always have a hose, bucket of water, or shovel and dirt or sand nearby to put out the fire, and make sure to put it completely out before leaving the site.
  • If there is a fire, call 911 immediately.