Brush fire spreads near College, threatens community homes

A campfire on the Appalachian Trail last Wednesday sparked a fire that spread throughout Clarksburg State Forest.--Photo courtesy of Paul Karabinos
A campfire on the Appalachian Trail last Wednesday sparked a fire that spread throughout Clarksburg State Forest.–Photo courtesy of Paul Karabinos

Last week, a rare three-day brush fire spread across Clarksburg State Forest.

Beginning on Wednesday afternoon, the fire covered 272 acres, and more than 70 firefighters and 50 command staff participated in the effort to extinguish it. There were no injuries or significant property damage.

On Wednesday around 2 p.m., firefighters received a call from a hiker whose campfire had sparked the blaze on the Appalachian Trail, two miles north of Massachussetts Ave in North Adams, Mass.

Firefighters continued fighting the conflagration until Saturday at 5 p.m., when the fire was considered to be 90 percent extinguished.

“During the second day of the fire [the fire] spread slowly north up Sherman Brook and west over the ridge just so that a separate fire was burning east of and below Pine Cobble,” said Paul Karabinos, professor of geosciences.

The problematic area was far from road access and water sources, warranting the assistance of a national guard helicopter on Thursday, which made several drops of buckets each holding 500 gallons of water and weighing approximately 4165 pounds.

Members of the College community were also prepared to evacuate their homes around Pine Cobble if it had been necessary.

The fire also affected the Williams Outing Club (WOC), with many of its events over the past few days cancelled or relocated. On Friday morning, Scott Lewis, WOC director, led the ritual sunrise hike up Pine Cobble at a time when the fire was considered contained.

“The fire had been pretty much dealt with on Thursday,” said Lewis, “There was [a] minimal amount of smoke in the morning and on our traditional sunrise hike we went up to Ephs lookout and as the wind picked up the flames started to start up. And so we observed from about a quarter mile away the flames starting to rekindle, and we called the local fire department and Campus
Safety and Security, and by the time we called they had already spotted the flames and were gathering to address the fire again. By that point they had decided to close the Pine Cobble trail and there was no activity on Saturday or Sunday.”

Both he and Dave Ackerson, WOC assistant director, commented that they were thankful that it was a top layer fire, and that the saturation of the ground prevented the fire from doing significant damage.

“It shouldn’t affect the Appalachian Trail at all,” said Ackerson. “I believe it’s going to be a good season.”

Lewis also commented on the beneficial aspects of forest fires in certain contexts.

“Fire is nature’s way of cleaning up the forest a little bit,” Lewis said. “People are studying that a little more. If you keep suppressing fires you have a lot more dead wood down. There are even species of tress that depend on fires to germinate, so it is a part of the natural system.”

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