April 16, 2009



Dry weather poses risk of grass fires

22 brush fires have been reported throughout the county since January

BrushJoe McIntyre/staff photographer
Marathon firefighter Eric Cornell douses charred timbers damaged in a grass fire Wednesday on McGraw Marathon Road in Freetown.

Staff Reporter

FREETOWN — Gary Powierski could hardly believe how fast it took flames to burn more than an acre of field behind his Freetown house Wednesday.
“The flames jumped from one spot to another,” said Powierski, of 2334 Marathon McGraw Road.
Dry brush and little more than a spark is all it takes to cause a grass fire, said Cortland County Assistant Director of Fire and Emergency Management Brenda DeRusso.
The National Weather Service issued a warning Tuesday for grass fires in Cortland County, which is still in effect, DeRusso said.
“Most of our grass fires this time of year are from the woods being dry and a lack of rain,” she said.
County Emergency officials said this morning 22 grass fires have been reported this year since January. Thirty-seven fires were reported last year.
The dry season began in mid-March, said County Fire and Emergency Management Director Robert Duell.
A county burning advisory issued March 31 is still in effect, he said.
Duell said the problem with grass fires grows from carelessness when people burn wood, dead brush or garbage outside.
“Just because it’s nice out, they don’t care about the wind, which is the worst thing,” Duell said.
Even a glass bottle reflecting sunlight could cause a fire, he said.
Firefighters say the season typically lasts until mid-May. Rainfall is expected this weekend, Duell said.
He said the problem with current weather conditions is that the ground could be damp from frost, but the grass above it could be dry from lack of rain.
The grass field behind Powierski’s property fit the dry conditions common for grass fires, most of which are accidental, Marathon firefighters said Wednesday.
“A gust of wind kicked up and helped it spread,” Marathon Assistant Fire Chief Dustin Contri said. “Dead brush generates more heat.”
Contri said Wednesday firefighters aimed their hoses at the grass behind Powierski’s house and gradually beat back the flames. It took over an hour to put out the fire.
Often, a grass fire can be caused by someone burning trash or dropping a lit cigarette, Contri said.
Marathon firefighters in three brush trucks — smaller trucks designed for fighting such fires — arrived at Powierski’s home at about 3 p.m. to battle the blaze. Flames were about a foot high, Powierski said.
He said he had been shopping in Cortland and arrived home at about 2:30 p.m., only to find the fire spreading in his backyard.
“I tried to put it out with a hose from my house, but I wasn’t putting a dent in it,” Powierski said.
That prompted him to dial 911. He said he felt lucky the wind was blowing away from his home and out into the empty yard. There was no damage to his home.
Contri said the wind helped the flames jump quickly from one dry spot to another. Small patches of greener or wet grass were skipped over by the flames and became visible once the fire was put out.
Powierski had two large piles of wood behind his house, one of which was the remains of a barn he tore down several years ago. He said the fire had not reached the wood pile when he arrived home, but that it was quickly consumed by the spreading flames.
Contri said Wednesday he did not know what caused the fire at Powierski’s property.
Duell said the priority when facing grass fires is containing the flames quickly, which can prove difficult in an open field. He said often a nearby roadway can hold flames back.
“You want to try and surround it as much as possible besides spraying it with water,” he said.


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