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April 29. 2013 8:23PM

Experts: Dry conditions just need a spark to start a North Country inferno

NORTH COUNTRY - Brush fires in the Conway area are a reminder to handle with care materials that could spark a fire.

Last week, 51 acres in East Conway was burned over in a fire in a field that seems to have been started by tracer rounds fired from automatic rifles during a target practice.

Though that hasn't stopped local fire warden from issuing fire permits, it's still reason enough to be extra cautious. In New Hampshire, fire permits are required for all outside fires, unless there is snow on the ground within 100 feet from where the fire will be.

The state Division of Lands and Forests posts the daily fire danger class on a scale from one to five. No permits are given out on class 4 or class 5 days. On Monday, the fire danger level was at class 3, or high. At this rating, fine, dead materials fuels readily ignite, and unattended fires can spread rapidly and become serious and difficult to control.

The level was posted as "Very High" on the sign at the entrance of the White Mountain National Forest on the eastern end of the Kancamagus Highway. Every spring the Forest Service does controlled burns on the National Forest, but the trained professionals only do so in optimal conditions, when the wind is right, and the weather and moisture levels are ideal.

This year's dry stretch of weather is not as bad as last year's, when wildfires scorched acreage throughout the state, including land in Bartlett near Iron Mountain and Warren. In spring 2012, the lack of winter snow melt and the sunny, warm weather dried out the forest floor earlier than usual, extending the vulnerable time before the trees and bushes got green.

Firefighter John Garcia of the North Conway Fire Department said that the fire danger varies day by day. "It all depends on the weather conditions we have," he said.

Local fire chiefs and fire wardens take their cue from the state posting, but can take local conditions into consideration to further restrict outside burning.

On Monday, all regions in the state were at class 3, including the Littleton area. "It's as dry as most places around the state, so we're playing it day by day," Lt. Ray Bowler of the Littleton Fire Department said Monday.

As to those getting out into the woods and fields for recreation or yard work as the weather warms into late spring, Bowler cautioned, "Even if you're careful things can get out of hand pretty quickly. It happens to the best of us."

syoungknox@newstote.com


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