MIDDLETOWN, Conn. — Since Tuesday afternoon, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP) has been tending to two pesky brush fires that have impacted nearly 200 acres of forest in Middletown, not far from the Pratt & Whitney plant.
Late Wednesday afternoon, DEEP crews were conducting what's called burnouts, where they intentionally set fire to the perimeter of the forest in the impacted area to create a border that another fire would not be able to burn beyond.
Officials said the main brush fire started Tuesday afternoon when a tree came down on a secondary powerline and the energy from that downed line ignited some brush. The second brush fire started late Tuesday night, but officials said it is highly unlikely that it was ignited by embers from the other fire. The later fire is considered suspicious in nature.
As Wednesday progressed, there was progress due in part to diminishing winds.
"We have a window of opportunity now to try and get this and secure it either to the roads or some inside existing trail system that may be there," said Rich Schenk the DEEP District Fire Control Officer.
One of the two brush fires burned right down to the edge of the road.
"But, the wind is picking up and there is some ash being thrown across the road and we might be able to put out some of this with an engine if there's available resources," a crew member told Schenk over his two-way radio.
Tuesday evening, Schenk said some area homes were in danger of catching fire.
"Fire is a frightening thing," said Donna Ayerst, who recently moved to a neighborhood close to the fire from California, in large part to get away from wildfires.
"Every year there was a fire and we would go down towards Sacramento and rent a hotel room for a few days with the dogs and are cherished cherished items of our life," Ayerst said.
And due to that trauma, she said she suffers from PTSD.
"Is that smoke or a cloud," she asked as she looked to the sky during the interview. When she was told it was just a cloud she said, "oh good" and chuckled nervously.
In addition to Wednesday afternoon's controlled burnout, fire containment can be aided by what they call natural fuel breaks, like a road, a stream, a river or even a brush-free area beneath powerlines.
"I'm not comfortable until all the snags (trees or branches caught in other trees) are stopped burning and it's just laying down on the ground," Schenk said. "Wildfire can be predictable but it can also start very quickly again with the fuel conditions that we have today."
Schenk also noted that the many dead oak trees, which were overcome by gypsy moths, serve as excellent kindling.
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