Firefighters still working on Leverett forest fire

  • Firefighters battle a brush fire that started Thursday morning on Joshua Hill and has since consumed undergrowth on about 66 acres of woodland. Courtesy Photo/Colrain Firefighters’ Association

Staff Writer
Published: 6/30/2020 2:13:16 PM

LEVERETT — A fire that has burned trees and consumed undergrowth on about 66 acres of woodland between Montague Road and Route 63 north of Leverett Pond is mostly contained following five full days of firefighting.

Leverett Fire Chief John Ingram said Tuesday that firefighters have gained control of the blaze by establishing a secure fire line, which runs about 1½ miles around the perimeter of the fire and is designed to prevent its continued spread.

The fire line was cut by a bulldozer, donated by Wagner Wood of Amherst for use for two days. The bulldozer scraped away ground cover to get to bare ground. Then, firefighters, by hand, dug a trench at the fire line, with the aim of breaking the greenery and ensuring the fire has no way of escaping.

“We’re in a much better place than we were,” Ingram said.

At the peak of the fire over the weekend, more than 100 firefighters from throughout the region were on scene to battle the blaze.

Ingram estimates the fire is now 80 percent contained. The continued challenge is due to the landscape’s significant ledge and not being able to make a perfect circle around the fire.

For the rest of the week, at least through Saturday, there will just be crews of two Leverett firefighters going out, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, to make sure the fire remains under control, Ingram said. They will get assistance from the state Department of Conservation and Recreation and state wildlife management employees.

The work began last Thursday when the department got calls from Rattlesnake Gutter Road residents and identified the plumes of smoke were coming from what is known as Joshua Hill. The cause of the fire is not yet known and remains under investigation.

The wet weather this week has helped, but Ingram said it won’t be enough to get down into the roots and fully douse the blaze.

“That whole area will be hot for a while,” Ingram said.

Because of that, Ingram said hikers and those who are curious should not venture onto the land.

“It’s still too dangerous to be in that inner circle,” Ingram said, adding that trees continue to be consumed, and burning limbs and entire trees are occasionally falling.

As firefighters worked in the woods, residents and area businesses helped by bringing breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Leverett Connects, the town’s e-newsletter, served as a way to get people to get the necessary food and drinks to the Leverett Safety Complex.

Nancy Emond, who helped coordinate the effort, said it was reminiscent of work she did in the 1970s to help firefighters responding to emergencies.

“Back in the day we would cook and bring casseroles,” Emond said.

More than 40 years later, Emond said more than 50 families, and dozens of businesses, responded to the appeal that came from her neighbors, including Eva Gibavic, Cheryl Howland, Mary Barnett and Kitze McCormick.

The work included arranging for the delivery of pizzas by Amherst House of Pizza, purchase of sandwiches and grinders from Big Y Supermarket, donation of bananas by Atkins Farms Country Market and 40 pounds of ice by Liquors 44 in Hadley, a half pallet of water bottles from Home Depot and a mixed box of apples and pears from the Leverett Village Co-op. Stop & Shop provided gift cards for supplies to be purchased.

“Within a couple of hours we had food going out and driven to the top of the mountain on ATVs,” Emond said. “It felt like an extension of the world I knew in the 1970s.”

Leverett resident Betsy Neisner said Leverett Connects is ready to activate whenever an emergency or other need in the community arises.

Patricia Duffy, another Leverett resident, said the effort was so successful that at one point over the weekend people were asked to pause in getting food and drinks because so much had already been brought to the site.

“There was tremendous outpouring from Leverett Connects,” Ingram said. “It absolutely blew us away, the support of the community and their appreciation for all crew members.”


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