Brush fire reignites on Black Hut Road; Chief says cause not ‘suspicious,’ started by campfire

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BURRILLVILLE – A fire that burned along eight acres of the Black Hut Management Area on Thursday, August 18 continued to plague firefighters into the night and again reignited Friday morning, according to those at the scene.

Harrisville Fire Chief Michael Gingell told NRI NOW the cause of the fire was determined to be a campfire that was not completely extinguished. The blaze has affected a forested swath of the state-owned recreation area and so far, has been contained, not threatening any structures or private residents, according to the chief.

“The fire is burning deep because it’s so dry, because of the drought,” Gingell said.

More than 50 firefighters initially responded to the scene of the blaze Thursday night including many neighboring departments, and Gingell said crews cleared out around 9:30 p.m., only to return an hour later to find the fire reignited. The team – led by both volunteer and paid firefighter’s in the town’s three paid districts, remained at the site until 1:30 a.m. Friday morning.

And Gingell said when he returned to the area around 8 a.m. Friday morning, the ground was again smoldering.

“It’s local fire companies that are here today,” he said.

Gingell noted he initially used the word, “suspicious,” in identifying the cause of the blaze to reporters Thursday evening, but it has since been determined that it began accidentally as a campfire, started within the 1,548-acre site, which features hiking trails.

The chief noted that he expects it to take at least several days to have the blaze fully extinguished, and that more likely, the area will need monitoring and additional work until the drought ends.

“Until we get some significant rain, we’re probably going to be chasing this,” he said.

The massive and hard-to-extinguish ground blaze is the latest in a series of fires that has kept local departments busy amid a dangerous drought in Rhode Island. Despite the current ban on outdoor burning, Burrillville crews tackled three fires on Thursday alone, including a separate, second fire in the Black Hut Area.

The problem, Gingell said, is that due to extreme dryness, fires that appear to be out can burn for days below the visible surface of the land. This particular blaze, he noted, was hot enough to light up some of the trees in the forest despite firefighter’s best efforts.

“Most of the fire is in the ground,” he said. “There were a couple of treetops that ignited, which is very unusual in this part of the country.”

On Friday, Gingell repeated the plea to residents to halt all outdoor burning, first discussed with NRI NOW on Thursday prior to the overnight blaze.

“It needs to stop,” Gingell said of private fires, mostly lit by families looking to enjoy the outdoors and unaware of the dangers. “That’s what these are all from. It just can’t be done. People need to be very vigilant until we get some substantial rain.”

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