Whipping wind ignites fires in Vermont
By Josh O’Gorman
STAFF WRITER | April 08,2013
Josh O’Gorman / Staff Photo
A firefighter sprays water on a brush fire in Florence on Sunday afternoon.
PITTSFORD — High winds and dry conditions created a tinderbox for wildfires around the state Sunday.
The largest fire consumed 22 acres around the Fire Hill area of Florence, a village of Pittsford. Around 12:45 p.m., members of Pittsford Fire Department responded to an outdoor fire at a residence at 242 Old Hubbardton Road. Upon arrival, it became clear the fire had climbed the hill behind the house and threatened homes along nearby Denaro Lane, said Pittsford Fire Chief Tom Hooker.
“We got a call for a brush fire,” Hooker said. “When we arrived, we immediately called in mutual aid because we knew it was beyond us.”
High winds drove the fire right to the edge of the driveway of 352 Denaro Lane, home of Karen Herrick and Todd Wheeler.
“It’s a troubling area for forest fires,” said Herrick, who has lived on Fire Hill for 14 years and seen numerous fires.
Three minor injuries were reported. Two firefighters were overcome by smoke, Hooker said, while Wheeler — who is not a firefighter — was struck by a falling tree and received some scratches and bruises, according to Herrick.
Hooker said he would not need to contact the state Division of Fire Safety to determine the cause of the fire.
“I don’t need an investigator to know where it started,” Hooker said, indicating the fire started outside an Old Hubbardton Road residence. “I believe this fire was started by burning rubbish, and there’s a ban on burning today.”
Hooker said the person who started the fire could face criminal charges.
The Pittsford Fire Department received aid from firefighters from Rutland Town, Brandon, West Rutland, Chittenden, Clarendon and Proctor. No buildings were damaged during the fire.
In Chester, a stray ember from the chimney of a sugarhouse ignited a brush fire along the Green Mountain Turnpike. The fire call went out at 2:37 p.m. and by 3:45 p.m. the one-acre blaze was extinguished, said Matthew Wilson, chief of the Chester Fire Department.
Chester received aid from Rockingham, Springfield, Ludlow, Proctorsville and Charlestown, N.H. There were no injuries and no property damage, Wilson said.
Rubbish burning caused a fire near the Danby Four Corners around 3:30 p.m., said Kenneth Abbott Sr., chief of the Danby-Mount Tabor Volunteer Fire Department.
“It wasn’t anything major, just a burn that got a little out of control,” Abbot said. “But when you have winds like this, you don’t want to take any chances.”
There were no injuries or property damage reported.
The wind turned what had been minor fires into causes for concern.
“Under normal conditions, we would have had that fire out in 15 or 20 minutes, but the winds were whipping and they kept shifting on us,” Hooker said of the Pittsford fire.
The National Weather Service issued a wind advisory for the Champlain Valley, said John Goff, lead forecaster for the National Weather Service in Burlington.
“We didn’t issue one for Rutland County, but it was close,” Goff said, noting his office had received reports of gusts as strong as 38 mph from Benson and Bomoseen. “Between the winds and the humidity, today wasn’t a good day to be burning.”
Making matters even more difficult, many fire departments were short-handed Sunday as firefighters from around the region were attending a class at Mill River Union High School in North Clarendon.