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Campfires cause wildfires over the holiday weekend

Wildfires that kept Essex County fire departments busy over Memorial Day weekend were set up by warm weather and in many cases started by unattended and unextinguished campfires.

All six wildfires in Essex County from Friday, May 22 to Monday, May 25 were caused by campfires, and each was contained to 1 or 2 acres, county Emergency Services Coordinator Don Jaquish said Tuesday, May 26, although Wilmington’s fire chief said no cause has yet been determined for one of the fires in his town. Jaquish said half were started by homeowners and half by seasonal residents.

Two fires took place in Wilmington, one of which took all night to fight. The others took place in Keene Valley, Crown Point, Minerva and Willsboro. In total, 14 fire departments responded.

Wilmington

Wilmington Volunteer Fire Department Chief Lou Adragna said a 1-acre fire at Indian Rock was from a campfire at a second home. The fire had not been extinguished the night before.

“It creeped outside the rock and started the woods on fire, endangering the house,” Adragna said.

He said it took around two hours for the trucks to clear the fire from near the house. He said fires should be put all the way out at night because they do not always stay contained to fire pits.

Adragna said a cause for the 3-acre fire at Whiteface Mountain has not yet been determined. That one was remote, only accessible by ATVs, but was contained with a fire line constructed with rakes, shovels and leaf blowers.

Keene Valley

Keene Valley Volunteer Fire Department Chief Rusty Hall, said a Monday morning fire on Porter Mountain was contained to around a quarter-acre space, but if it had traveled just a few feet more it could have caught some highly flammable downed spruce and hemlock trees.

“We would have been in some serious trouble, because there was a camp just above it,” Hall said.

Hall said the fire was likely from a campfire that had not been properly extinguished the night before. He said when members arrived at 9:40 a.m. Monday, the fire pit was still smoldering. He said the wind likely carried embers from the fire pit to the woods, where the fire was raging when firefighters arrived.

He said it took 39 members and four departments — Keene Valley, Keene, Upper Jay and Jay — three hours to contain the fire. The location was so remote, he said, that only pickup trucks and all-terrain vehicles could access it, and it was so high on the mountain that they had a difficult time accessing water. He said they pumped water from streams and the landowner’s well.

Hall said people having campfires should pay attention and fully extinguish them with water when they leave them.

He said he had told some people on his road Sunday evening not to shoot off fireworks because of the dry conditions.

“I might’ve jinxed our department because I said we were the only department in the North Country that hadn’t been out,” Hall said.