19 departments assist in quelling nearly 30-acre brush fire in Deerfield

By CHRIS LARABEE

Staff Writer

Published: 04-14-2023 3:18 PM

DEERFIELD — After returning to the scene Thursday morning, the Deerfield Fire District and numerous other agencies contained and knocked down an expansive brush fire near the railroad tracks by Hawks Road.

The brush fire was reported by a Mount Toby fire tower around 4:10 p.m. on Wednesday and the Deerfield Fire District and Conway Fire Department were dispatched. Upon arrival, Conway firefighters requested a first alarm be struck as the fire was being pushed by strong winds and was rapidly expanding, according to a Deerfield Fire District Facebook post.

Assistant Fire Chief Ben Clark said firefighters are “pretty certain” the fire originated from the railroad tracks, and the unseasonably warm weather and gusting wind caused it to quickly spread.

Minutes later, a second alarm was struck to bring in additional firefighters and resources due to the difficult terrain, lack of access and limited water in the hills.

“It was a fairly remote location, and with the wind conditions it got the fire going,” Clark said. “There was an issue, initially, with getting enough manpower in, but we were very fortunate. We had assistance from all over the county. … It really came together well.”

Once more crews arrived, Clark said firefighters established a command unit. Several area fire chiefs coordinated firefighters and allocated resources.

Clark estimated the size of the fire to be under 30 acres, which is far from the “run-of-the-mill” 1- to 2-acre brush fires they typically encounter in someone’s yard.

No injuries were reported and at no time were any structures in danger due to the fire’s remote location, however, two fire engines were deployed to Hawks Road in the event the fire spread toward the houses there.

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Over the course of two hours, firefighters from Franklin and Hampshire counties, as well as Massachusetts State Police, its air wing and the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation battled the blaze. By 6:53 p.m. Wednesday, the fire was deemed “contained” and first responders were called off for the night due to darkness and other dangerous conditions.

On Thursday at 8 a.m., Deerfield and other firefighters returned to finish extinguishing the fire, soaking the area and cutting down trees. During this phase, Ashfield-based Pantermehl Land Clearing provided a log truck and environmental mats to assist in a stream crossing so brush trucks could reach the fire on the north end of the area. Crews were out of the woods by 3:30 p.m.

For a fire of this size, Clark said it’s typical to return to the scene the next day to make sure it doesn’t flare up again. He added there were two additional firefighters deployed to the area on Friday with state partners to ensure no other hotspots appeared.

In its Facebook post, the Deerfield Fire District thanked the 19 fire departments from the Pioneer Valley that provided assistance, as well as the Deerfield Police Department, South County EMS, Franklin County Brush Fire Hand Crew, DCR, Shelburne Control Dispatch Center and railroad company CSX for their assistance.

The fire departments that assisted Conway and the Deerfield Fire District were the South Deerfield and Shelburne Falls fire districts, as well as Greenfield, Sunderland, Whately, Shelburne, Buckland, Montague Center, Gill, Bernardston, Colrain, Northfield, Hatfield, Turners Falls, Erving, Williamsburg, Wendell and Leverett departments. The state Department of Fire Services also assisted.

Clark emphasized his gratefulness for help from the various surrounding departments. He also noted the vast majority of these departments are staffed by volunteers, who drop everything they are doing to respond to an emergency, and community support keeps them going.

“All fire departments rely on mutual aid and we are thankful for all the help we can get, especially on something like this,” Clark said. “We encourage anybody to support their fire departments in any way they can.”

Chris Larabee can be reached at clarabee@recorder.com or 413-930-4081.

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