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Statewide burn ban still in effect

Area awaits widespread ‘good soaking rain’

BRATTLEBORO—Recent scattered rain showers have not provided enough water to soak an unusually dry Windham County landscape.

That is why the Brattleboro Fire Department is reminding residents that the statewide burn ban remains in effect for Windham and Bennington counties.

The state imposed a statewide burn ban, prohibits all open burning, on May 5. After rains soaked much of northern Vermont last week, the state lifted the ban except for its two most southern counties.

“It’s abnormally dry this spring, believe it or not,” said Brattleboro Fire Chief Michael Bucossi.

At the beginning of April, Bucossi’s main concern was ice jams and flooding from melting snow after a rough winter.

By the end of the April, his department was dealing with scattered small brush fires after several weeks with rain.

That dry weather contributed to a May 4 brush fire that burned nearly 50 acres on Melchen Road in West Brattleboro.

That fire took almost a week to completely extinguish, said Bucossi.

“Because the fire went underground,” he said. “They were following the root system.”

Approximately 100 firefighters helped contain the accidental fire started by a downed electrical wire. The fire’s remnants continued to burn through the wooded area’s roots contributing to “pop-up fires,” Bucossi said.

He thanked residents who have complied with the ban and urged everyone to keep from starting any kind of open flame outdoors.

Burn bans aren’t unheard of in the state’s often rainy spring season, but they’re not common either, said Bucossi.

“I can’t remember the last one [spring burn ban],” he said. “They’re not common because we do get a lot of spring rain.”

The last time the state Department of Forests, Parks & Recreation, issued such a ban was in 2005.

This spring, however, even a cigarette tossed from a car window could spark a brush fire, he said.

Bucossi is hoping for a “nice, steady, light to moderate” day of rain. While the greening hillsides look lush, if you stick a shovel in the ground, the soil will be dry, he said.

Municipalities can’t lift local burn bans until the state does, Bucossi said, adding that he intends to reassess conditions when the state eventually lifts its ban before deciding whether to lift Brattleboro’s ban.

BFD also uses the National Weather Service’s “red flag” warnings and information released by fire tower personnel in New Hampshire and Massachusetts when assessing risks locally.

Red flag warnings are issued on days that feature a combination of warm temperatures, low humidity, and light to moderate winds.

As a word to the wise, Bucossi noted that his department has the authority under Brattleboro ordinances to fine individuals engaging in illegal burning.

If the BFD must respond to an illegal burn, the fine starts at $200 and can increase depending on a variety of factors, such as the number of fires and how often the department responds to the same property.

Bucossi said he hopes, however, that his department won’t be handing out fines, and that residents will cooperate with the ban.

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Originally published in The Commons issue #306 (Wednesday, May 20, 2015). This story appeared on page A1.

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