BOSTON (SHNS) – Drought conditions that have become common in Massachusetts in recent years not only increase the risks of wildfire by drying out vegetation, but they also pose firefighting challenges by limiting the availability of water, officials said Tuesday.
Presenting figures that surprised at least one lawmaker, state public safety and firefighting experts told the COVID-19 and Emergency Preparedness and Management Committee that Massachusetts has experienced 1,018 wildfires burning a total of 1,556 acres since the start of 2022.
The weather exacerbated those blazes. Much of Massachusetts was in a “critical drought” for several months, particularly in the hottest stretches of the summer.
Chief Forest Fire Warden Dave Celino told lawmakers on Tuesday that during one trip to the Gloucester and Rockport area, the dryness was so pronounced that it “looked like Arizona.” Sterling Fire Chief David Hurlbut warned that the drought partly depleted natural bodies of water that firefighters often use to combat blazes.
When a July fire destroyed a vacant mill in Russell, crews had to use tankers because a nearby river was insufficient, Hurlbut said. He added that firefighters used so much water fighting a blaze in Mattapoisett that officials had to deploy extra tankers to protect other Plymouth County communities.
“Had there been any other significant fires, these tankers would have been the only water source that fire departments had to extinguish fires,” Hurlbut said. “It’s inherently apparent that as we have these droughts, our lack of water has caused the movement of fire resources throughout the state.”
Lawmakers convened Tuesday’s hearing to get a better understanding of wildfire prevention efforts underway at the state level and the interaction between local, state and federal agencies tasked with limiting the impact of those fires.