‘Use common sense’: DEM officials urge caution after 10+ acres burned Saturday in Exeter

Local News

EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Officials from Rhode Island Department Of Environmental Management (DEM) continue to warn residents regarding the ongoing fire danger across southern New England.

It’s a story we’ve been tracking since Wednesday of last week.

Eyewitness News confirmed with Michael Healey, a spokesperson for DEM, that a brushfire consumed between 10 and 11 acres in Exeter on Saturday afternoon at 900 Ten Rod Road.

He said the first call was received at 11:45 a.m. and was contained by 2:45 p.m. that same afternoon.

Healey adds the near-freezing temperatures overnight (Saturday night into Sunday) was a benefit as well – squashing any potential hotspots.

According to the U.S. Wildland Fire Assessment System – the fire danger on Sunday was classified as ‘moderate’ or ‘high’ fire danger.


Moderate: Fires can start from most accidental causes, but with the exception of lightning fires in some areas, the number of starts is generally low. Fires in open cured grasslands will burn briskly and spread rapidly on windy days. Timber fires spread slowly to moderately fast. The average fire is of moderate intensity, although heavy concentrations of fuel, especially draped fuel, may burn hot. Short-distance spotting may occur, but is not persistent. Fires are not likely to become serious and control is relatively easy.

High: All fine dead fuels ignite readily and fires start easily from most causes. Unattended brush and campfires are likely to escape. Fires spread rapidly and short-distance spotting is common. High-intensity burning may develop on slopes or in concentrations of fine fuels. Fires may become serious and their control difficult unless they are attacked successfully while small.

Cause of the enhanced fire danger:

It’s no surprise southern New England has struggled this winter with snow. Some people might not think much of it, but, for Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management forest ranger, Ben Arnold, it’s a BIG deal.

“When there is no snow on the ground, that allows sunlight to go into the forest floor which dries out the leaf litter, the grasses, the pine needles – what we refer to as fine flashy fuels.”

Southern New England as seen from MODIS, a satellite.

As seen above, all of southern New England is snow-free on February 23rd – concerning foresters like Arnold.

Arnold explains there is more fuel loading on the ground right now then there was 20 years ago.

“By fuel loading, I am talking about the amount of fuel that is available on the forest floor,” said Arnold.

One reason, the impact of the gypsy moth caterpillars, “caused a lot of trees to die, those branches are dying and dropping off the trees. That is just building up the amount of fuel that is available on the forest floor.”

Use your common sense!

Arnold says, “use common sense,” any time of the year when burning. “We do have a lot of fires that are caused by homeowners burning debris in their yard. Another thing that causes a lot of brushfires this time of year – people discarding woodstove and fireplace ashes into the woods.”

There can still be hot embers in the ashes, which can easily start a fire.

Additional tips from Arnold:

  • Get a burn permit before burning yard debris.
  • Be mindful of where you dispose of your woodstove/fireplace ashes.
  • Clear gutters of leaves & combustible litter.
  • Cut back tree limbs that encroach over your home.
  • Allow for defensible space around your home if you live up against the woods/forest.

Wildfire training for volunteer fire departments in R.I.

Ben Arnold told Eyewitness News, DEM offers wildfire training to volunteer fire departments in Rhode Island.

The DEM Division of Forest Environment (DFE) Forest Fire Program offers indoor, and hands-on, wildland fire training to VFDs and will accommodate your department’s schedule to deliver effective training, tailored to your department’s needs. We also work closely with the Northeast Forest Fire Protection Compact (NFFPC) to train firefighters with National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) qualifications.

For more information, contact Training Officer Ben Arnold at ben.arnold@dem.ri.gov.

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