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Wildfires, Similar to Those in the West, Possible in Western Mass.


YARNELL HILL FIRE AZ

PALMER, Mass. (WGGB) — Steamy temperatures, dry conditions and the right kinds of vegetation, the three ingredients that make a perfect recipe for wildfires like the ones they are experiencing in the southwest.

And with the recent loss of 19 firefighters in Prescott, Arizona, it begs the question: could a raging fire like those happen here in Western Massachusetts?

Hotshots are the most well-trained and physically fit of firefighters, usually called in when the fire overpowers the initial attack.

“Those are the guys, or the firefighters, that usually experience the worst conditions, working conditions. They are usually right there up against the fire,” explained Palmer Fire Chief Scott Turner.

Hotshots are usually sent in once a fire reaches 100 acres or more, many times camping out right there along the fire line as they battle the blaze with just a hand tool, used to dig a trench to stop the wall of fire.

Having battled forest fires all over the country, when Chief Scott Turner heard of the 19 hotshots that had perished in Arizona Sunday, he said he felt sick to his stomach.

But could wildfires like the one happen here?

According to Chief Turner, just because we receive more rain on an annual basis here in Massachusetts, it does not mean we are not at risk for these wildfires like they are seeing in the Southwest.

“They could. We’ve had a few cases of very large fast moving fires here in Massachusetts,” Turner adds.

In fact, there was such a fire in Russell in 1999.

“The fire behavior was identical to a fire out west. It was crowning, burning the tops of the trees. It jumped completely over the Mass. Pike in Westfield,” said Turner. “The potential is here in Massachusetts.”

The Hotshot team was taken by surprise when violent winds changed the direction of the blaze suddenly.

The fire, which is now 80 percent contained, also destroyed more than 100 homes and has burned about 13 square miles. More than 600 firefighters continue to battle that fire.


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