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A crowd watches a fire purposely set in Bretzfelder Park in Bethlehem as part of a wildfire fighting demonstration hosted by the New Hampshire Division of Forests and Lands and Bethlehem and Sugar Hill fire departments last Wednesday. (Kristi Garofalo)

Crews demonstrate fire control

BETHLEHEM — New Hampshire is the second most-forested state in the nation with 4.8 million acres of forest covering 84 percent of the landscape.

With all those trees, forest fires are always a concern — especially with the current wildfire disasters in the western parts of the nation.

On Wednesday, more than 35 people gathered at Bretzfelder Park — a 77 acre expanse of land — for a demonstration of wildfire fighting techniques and the chance to view wildland firefighting trucks and equipment.

As part of the program, firefighters from the New Hampshire Division of Forests and Lands joined with Bethlehem and Sugar Hill Fire Departments to demonstrate digging a fire line around a purposely set wildfire and extinguish it without water.

Bethlehem assistant fire chief Brian Charland is also a special deputy warden for the Division of Forests and Lands and has fought wildfires in California and Quebec in the past year.

Charland said New Hampshire does have small wildfires, but high humidity levels at night keep them from being as destructive as those he's fought out west.

&#';I've always been told that in New Hampshire we have the 'asbestos forest' — it won't burn,&#'; said Charland.

As if to prove his point, firefighters struggled to start the demonstration blaze. Finally lit, the fire was allowed to burn for several minutes before it was easily extinguished.

Al MacBain, a member of the Bethlehem Fire Department and a deputy warden for the Division of Forests and Lands, said the largest local fire this year was less than an acre. Area firefighters recently assisted at a wildfire in Groton, Vt., and a New Hampshire crew sent to fight fires in Idaho had North Country representatives.

MacBain is also the caretaker of Bretzfelder Park, owned by the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. The Society sponsors weekly educational sessions each year during the months of February and August.

Bethlehem resident Betty Grubbs has attended several of the education sessions and came to the demonstration to learn about wild land firefighting.

She and her husband moved to New Hampshire 12 years ago to fulfill a dream of living in a remote log cabin in the woods.

&#';We didn't move into the forest to take it down,&#'; she said. They did, however, clear enough trees so if their cabin caught fire it wouldn't spread to the forest and vice versa.

&#';Prevention, that's all you can do &#-; and insurance,&#'; Grubbs said, but admitted watching the demonstration program made her feel better.

&#';We demonstrate because people ask us to do it and we enjoy it,&#'; said Bert von Dohrmann, a retired forest ranger and special deputy warden. &#';It's good to let them know what we do.&#';

kgarofalo@newstote.com

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