Brush fires burn in East Lyme and Voluntown, but relief may be in sight

Firefighters hose down hots spots after a fire at 238 Shetucket Turnpike in Vountown on Tuesday.
Firefighters hose down hots spots after a fire at 238 Shetucket Turnpike in Vountown on Tuesday. Sean D. Elliot/The Day Buy Photo

Brush fires scorched acreage in two parts of eastern Connecticut Tuesday, underscoring the high risk of forest fires and the recent "red flag" warnings for much of the Northeast.

On Monday, a phragmites patch in the Beaver Brook Recreation Area in Milford caught fire and spread quickly, said Chris Martin, state forester with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection.

On Tuesday afternoon about an acre of East Lyme and Niantic Land Conservation Trust woodlands off Oakwood and Marshfield roads near the Giants Neck Heights neighborhood caught fire, burning about two hours before firefighters brought it under control.

A fire off Route 165 in Voluntown destroyed a workshop building and some of the grounds at the A Dawley Excavating company earlier in the afternoon.

The forest fire danger rating has been high or very high in the state for the last week and a half, with "red flag" warnings issued by the National Weather Service several times during that period when there were sustained winds over 25 mph, Martin said. The high fire risk is due to dry conditions from lack of rain and a large number of downed and dead trees and brush from the tropical storm in August and the snowstorm in October.

On Tuesday, the weather service issued a statewide "elevated risk" alert for wildfires due to strong winds, low humidity and the abundance of dry fuel.

Weather forecasters are predicting the possibility of showers today or Thursday.

Niantic Fire Chief John McDonald said crews from the Niantic and Flanders departments fought the East Lyme blaze. The fire was deep into the wooded area, he said. Hoses were extended from a hydrant in the neighborhood through yards and into the woods, he said. A brush truck and other special equipment were also used to fight the fire.

"It was a ways in," McDonald said.

No cause has been determined.

The fire at first appeared to be moving toward houses. Then a shift in the wind slowed its progress in that direction.

Kathryn Burton, land trust president, said the 22-acre area, known as Ravens Woods, was donated to the trust and includes hiking trails.

Voluntown Fire Chief Jody Grenier said the homeowner at 235 Shetucket Turnpike returned Tuesday afternoon to find the backyard on fire. Grenier said it is not known whether the fire started in the building or on the grounds.

The Voluntown fire did not threaten the nearby Pachaug State Forest, DEEP's Martin said.

DEEP has been issuing warnings about the high fire risk and all open burn permits have been suspended. He noted that many residents have large piles of storm debris they would like to burn, but have been patient.

"We're getting the word out as much as we can," he said. "The thing we're pleased about is that Connecticut residents are obeying, otherwise we'd be seeing a lot more fires."

j.benson@theday.com

Niantic and Flanders firefighters work to contain a fast-moving brush fire in the woods behind Oakwood and Marshfield roads Tuesday.  A shift in the wind helped the firefighters contain the fire to under 1 acre burned.  Connecticut remains under a very high forest fire danger warning due to wind and dry conditions.
Niantic and Flanders firefighters work to contain a fast-moving brush fire in the woods behind Oakwood and Marshfield roads Tuesday. A shift in the wind helped the firefighters contain the fire to under 1 acre burned. Connecticut remains under a very high forest fire danger warning due to wind and dry conditions. Tim Cook/The Day Buy Photo
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