40 firefighters help to put out Wantastiquet fire


HINSDALE, N.H. -- A brush fire on Mount Wantastiquet took about 12 hours to extinguish, and firefighters were scheduled to be back out on the hill Tuesday night to make sure no hot spots flared up.

"These things can burn underground for hours, sometimes days," said Hinsdale Fire Chief Jay Matuszewski, who at 3 p.m. on Tuesday, was in the firehouse cleaning up and regearing before heading back out to the scene. "We did leave some hose up there near some hot spots. We'll go back up and do a walkaround."

Matuszewski said it was unclear how the fire got started.

"There's nothing real obvious, but it started by the edge of the road. More than likely it was a cigarette thrown from a car, but that's just a guess."

The Hinsdale Fire Department was called to the old WalMart building at George's Field at just past 3 a.m., said Matuszewski.

"Accessibility wasn't very good," said Matuszewski. "Right behind the building it's just shy of being vertical with loose shale."

Firefighters struggled to drag 500 feet of hose up the hill, said the chief, which is as high as the department's pumps can push water.

"The fire continued to advance over the top of the ledgey area."

At the top, the fire was met by the firefighters from the other departments, who used the one road up the mountain to shuttle equipment and water to the scene.

"All the Mutual Aid companies did a fantastic job," said Matuszewski. "We had all our resources tied up at the bottom trying to catch up and those guys went up to the top to stop if from spreading farther. Instead of just being five acres, it could have been way over 20."

About 40 firefighters in total helped to extinguish the blaze, he said.

"At the top we had to hike out about 1,000 feet from the closest road and lay hose by hand," said Matuszewski. "We were bush whacking."

This is not the first time Hinsdale and the other departments have been called for fires on Mount Wantastiquet.

"Anytime we get called out there we know it's not going to be a fund day, just because of the terrain and accessibility. There's just the one road up the hill and one along the river. Everything else is carry, hike and pull lines and digging trenches with hand tools."

Matuszewski warned people who hike or visit the area to be very careful because the fire season is just getting started.

"If conditions are right, it doesn't take much. But very few fires ever start of natural causes."

The Brattleboro Fire Department sent a brush truck and crew to assist around 4 a.m. It returned to the station around 10 a.m., said Fire Chief Mike Bucossi. Firefighters and equipment also came from Chesterfield, Spofford, Winchester and Guilford, Vt. Rescue Inc. also assisted on scene. Spofford Fire Chief Gordon Rudolph said when he and his crew of 10 firefighters arrived they were faced with very rough terrain, which resulted in a busted OHRV.

One firefighter was injured with a broken wrist as the result of a fall, said Matuszewski. In addition there were a number of minor scrapes and bruises.

"We were working on terrain made for a billy goat," said Matuszewski.

Bob Audette can be reached at raudette@reformer.com, or at 802-254-2311, ext. 160. Follow Bob on Twitter @audette.reformer.


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