Lewis County brush fires spark warning

Firefighters from five volunteer fire departments in Lewis County fought a fire in a corn field on April 14 on Pine Grove Road in the town of Watson that was sparked in dry conditions by a piece of equipment being used on the field. Photo courtesy of Lowville Fire Department Facebook

LOWVILLE — Two brush fires in Lewis County on Tuesday — making it three since mid-April — and no rain predicted for at least the next 10 days indicates extra precautions should be taken for Memorial Day weekend activities.

A brush fire in the town of Watson on Tuesday afternoon was followed by another in the town of West Leyden, burning about 0.75 acres and 1.5 acres, respectively. Both were the result of “controlled” fires getting out of hand, according to fire chiefs at each scene.

“They were clearing some land and burning some of the brush and it wasn’t as far away from other burnables as it should have been,” said Lowville Volunteer Fire Department Chief Joseph Austin of the Watson fire on George Hill Road.

The statewide burn ban expired on May 15, he added, but unlike other years when there has been little precipitation, the ban was not extended.

The logger helped firefighters from the Martinsburg, Glenfield, Croghan and New Bremen fire departments and state Department of Environmental Conservation rangers by using his “heavy equipment” to dig a fire break.

“Where it was burning was a heavily wooded area so if it would have kept going there were a few houses that would have been at risk if it would have went another quarter of a mile,” Mr. Austin said.

West Leyden Volunteer Fire Department Chief Jeffrey Nellenback described the West Leyden fire that got away from the landowner burning garbage on Stinebrickner Road near the intersection of Fish Creek Road as “miserable.”

“It was in an old hay field from years and years ago that had grown into brush. It was about 4 feet high to 8 feet high... You couldn’t walk through it hardly at all,” he said. “(The fire) got in that grass but luckily there wasn’t a strong wind — there was a little bit of a breeze but not enough to push it real hard.”

If it had “gotten away” from firefighters, Mr. Nellenback said a new camp built nearby would have been in jeopardy as the fire headed deeper into the property toward the woods.

The property owner’s house set on the road was not threatened by the fire.

Mr. Nellenback said West Leyden Volunteer Fire Department was assisted by Constableville Volunteer Fire Department.

“I think we did very well for the size of it and the location. It was a great team effort,” he added.

The landowner is believed to have been ticketed by the DEC forest range for burning garbage — an illegal act statewide — however, that could not be confirmed in time for publication.

On April 14, about 4 acres of corn field on Pine Grove Road in Watson burned and threatened two nearby houses when a piece of equipment being used by a farmer lost a bearing which sparked a fire, likely when the metal hit a rock.

The two chiefs gave some advice for anyone who decides their Memorial Day weekend will not be complete unless they build a fire and anyone working with equipment in the increasingly dry conditions over the next two weeks.

“If you’re going to have any type of fire whatsoever, you should have some kind of water source nearby and if you’re working with equipment, you should be paying attention to if you hit rocks that could cause sparks and very easily set the field on fire,” said the Lowville chief.

Mr. Nellenback said that even before anyone starts a fire this holiday weekend and beyond, they should understand the current conditions.

“Even though the burn ban is off, it’s extremely dry. The undergrowth is still very dry and very flammable,” he said. “Especially this weekend with campfires and (people with) fires behind their houses and things like that... If we’re only getting a little bit of rain today and it dries back up, it’s not good. The sparks fly and it can get away from people.”

The southern Lewis County official urged people to ensure fires are attended while they are lit and that people make sure all fires are completely out before they are abandoned.

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