Dry conditions and fire dangers are often a worry during summer months.
But after 25 days without any significant rain — or snow, conditions on Cape Ann are dry enough this February to make firefighters nervous.
"If we don't get the rain soon, we're going to have an issue," Essex Fire Chief Daniel Doucette said Tuesday. "Right now, the wind has been the issue, not the dry conditions."
Yet, in the past week, the Essex Fire Department has responded to two calls for out-of-control fires that grew out of permitted controlled burns. In both cases, there was no property damage or injuries.
In Gloucester, a brush fire off of Bass Avenue and Hartz Street spurred brief radio calls to prepare for the evacuation of some nearby buildings.
That fire spewed black smoke over the area and spread quickly, though it was extinguished quickly, and firefighters ultimately did not have to clear any structures.
Gloucester Fire Capt. Joseph Aiello said the dry conditions — enhanced by a lack of virtually any snow this winter — are not bad enough at this point to force any change to how the department responds to fires. But they can be a contributing factor to the severity of fires.
"When people don't follow the rules about controlled burn, it gets out of control," said Aiello. "The weather could contribute to that if it doesn't get wet soon."
"It could get bad, but right now it's quiet," said Rockport Fire Chief Jim Doyle.
Over the weekend, Rockport police were called to a forest fire in Halibut Point State Park that was close to a house, and were able to extinguish the fire very quickly without damage to any property. No cause has been determined for the fire, but Doyle said many other fires are caused by controlled burns that do not stay controlled.
"People have burning permits, and then the wind picks up," said Doyle. Doyle and the other fire chiefs said that some people light the fires outside to burn debris, then go to do other chores rather than watch the fire to be sure it stays under control.
"We've had days when there's been no burning at all," including Monday, Doyle said.
Doyle also said he would prefer if no burning was allowed until the ground gets wetter, but that he would not prevent burning on days when the state Department of Environmental protection rules it safe.
When fighting fires in dry weather, Manchester Fire Chief Andrew Paskalis said he assumes the fires will move faster and spread farther than they would in normal circumstances and acts with more caution.
"I might call more resources initially," said Paskalis. "We get calls of smoke from permitted fires and we go to make sure it's under control."
According to Paskalis, in extremely dry weather fires can spread to roots and burn underground, which can be very difficult to track and extinguish. "We aren't there yet, knock on wood," said Paskalis, though he also expressed his hope for rain.
The firefighters said that the best way for residents to prevent fires from getting out of control is to always be present when the flames are lit, to keep a water source nearby, and to call the fire department at the first sign of trouble.
Stephanie Bergman can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.