Don’t light up: Burrillville chiefs plead with residents to heed drought warning after multiple brush fires


BURRILLVILLE – Chiefs from all three village fire districts in Burrillville are asking residents to immediately stop all outdoor burning after they were called to five separate blazes started accidentally as campfires over the last several days.

“They were all the result of typical campfires that have been left smoldering and caught the area woods on fire,” said Harrisville Fire Chief Michael Gingell.

Three of those fires took place in Gingell’s home district of Harrisville, but the chief noted that there have also been blazes in Pascoag and Oakland Mapleville, and that Chiefs Joseph Bertholic and Michael Dexter are joining in the plea to locals.

On Thursday, August 18 alone, firefighters were called to two separate blazes, including one on Black Hut Road that threatened a home and shed in its path.

“It was going up a hill,” Gingell said. “Brush fires like to burn upwards.”

The problem, Gingell noted, is that extremely dry weather conditions cause fires to burn into the ground, making the blaze harder to put out. As a result, even a small camp fire that has been extinguished can reignite days later.

Such was the case for one fire on Collins Taft Road this week, where firefighters had to return twice. Gingell noted that the same thing happened on Black Hut Road, where a fire believed to have been out for three days rekindled when the homeowner was away.

“They were all small fires, but burned very deep because of the drought and the extreme weather that we’re having,” Gingell said. “It’s so dry that they didn’t properly extinguish.”

Ben Arnold, principle forest ranger and fire program training officer for the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management Forestry Division said it’s a problem that has plagued fire departments statewide in recent weeks.

“We’ve seen an uptick in fire activity in the state, much of which has been campfires or illegal outdoor burning, and it has a lot to do with the dry conditions that we’ve been experiencing,” Arnold said.

“It’s the lack of moisture this time of year in the ground,” Arnold said. “You can sprinkle water on it all day – if it doesn’t get deep enough into the ground, it’s not going to put it out. It’s going to pop up in other places.”

The recent fires in Burrilllville, Gingell noted, have also been remote, making them harder to fight.

“We’ve used about 10,000 gallons of water that we’ve had truck into the woods,” Gingell said, estimating that the Burrillville departments have also used around ten hours of manpower. “It’s very labor intensive.”

On Thursday, Gingell spoke with NRI NOW around noon after fighting his second fire of the day. He said that earlier in the morning, firefighters were called to a remote area of Spring Lake and had to be brought over on pontoon boats, hauling their equipment.

All of the fires, he noted, were unintentional.

“We’re urgently requesting resident to stop all outdoor burning immediately,” Gingell said, noting that the burn notice will remain in effect until the area gets significant rainfall.

As the drought continues this week, Gingell urged residents to reconsider before lighting even a small backyard blaze noting that, “even a nice campfire with your kids,” is currently off limits. The town of Burrillville also put out a Code Red notice to alert residents of the problem on Thursday.

“We have a dry week again,” the chief said with a sigh.



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