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Sue Bush
More articles from Sue Bush

Williamstown Firefighters Battle Multiple Blazes

By Susan Bush
12:00AM / Monday, May 01, 2006

Williamstown Fire Chief Craig Pedercini and firefighter Peter Niemeyer at an Oblong Road fire command center on May 1.
Williamstown - Town firefighters relied on stamina and training during April 30 and May 1, when multiple fires were reported and extinguished over a span of several hours.

The most challenging blaze consumed about 45 acres along the Taconic Ridge mountain region.

The fire was detected during the late afternoon on April 30, as firefighters were at the scene of an Oblong Road out-of-control brush fire. Firefighters at that fire saw a plume of smoke rising from the western side of a mountain.

Fire Scouting

Firefighters trekked about one-and-a-half-miles up a mountainside path while attired in full protective firefighting gear. The firefighters scouted the area, located fire, and began to cut a fire line and douse flames.

Much of the fire burned an area situated at a lower elevation between two taller ridges, said Pedercini and firefighter Peter Niemeyer. The area is at the Massachusetts/New York border and fire officials and forest rangers from both states were initially uncertain where the fire had started and in which state it burned. Firefighters from volunteer fire departments in both states battled the blaze, Pedercini said.

Likely A Massachusetts Fire


Florida volunteer firefighters Mark Bulshey and Mike Packard were among the firefighters at the Taconic mountain ridge fire scene.
As of late morning on May 1, fire officials believed that all the burned acreage is located in Massachusetts. The determination was made using GPS information and after a Massachusetts State Police AirWing II unit flew over the blaze site.

Pedercini noted that the rough, wooded terrain is not marked with state border signs or markers, and ascertaining at precisely which point Massachusetts and New York separated was very difficult under the fire conditions. The New York towns of Berlin, Petersburg, and Stephentown are on the western side of the mountain ridge.

Command Center On Oblong Road

A Massachusetts firefighting contingent set up a command area in a field off of Oblong Road. About 32 firefighters from numerous fire departments attacked the fire from the mountain while about 20 additional firefighters provided support and stand-by services from the command center.

Members of the town volunteer fire department, the town forestry department, the Hancock Volunteer Fire Department, the Lanesboro Volunteer Fire Department, the Pownal [Vt.] Valley Volunteer Fire Department, and the Pownal [Vt.] Protective Fire Association were at the fire scene. The Gale Hose Auxiliary provided food and drink to firefighters.

"It is a godsend when people show up with nourishment and coffee," said Neimeyer. "That's something that is really, really appreciated."

Members of the Village Ambulance Service were at the April 30 scene.

Massachusetts firefighters began leaving the mountain at about 9:10 p.m., and were all off of the mountain by 10:30 p.m.. New York firefighters began their descent from the mountain about an hour or two later, fire officials said.

Return To The Scene

Fire officials from both states conferenced via telephone and arranged for teams of firefighters, forestry officials and rangers from each state to return to the site at 6 a.m. May 1 to search for and extinguish any "hot spot" areas.

As of 10:30 a.m., there were about 42 individuals along the ridge. Of that number, 11 were firefighters from New York fire departments, two were New York state forest rangers, and 29 people were from Massachusetts. A command center was re-established at the field near Oblong Road.

Firefighters from the town fire department, wardens from the town forestry department, members of the Savoy Volunteer Fire department, forest wardens from Adams, members of the state Department of Conservation and Recreation, Butch Garrity of the county fire services [County Car 1], and firefighters from the Florida, Clarksburg, and Cheshire volunteer fire departments were at the scene.

Florida Volunteer Fire Department firefighter Laurie Tuper assisted at the Oblong Road command center on May 1.


Several area residents volunteered their services as well, Pedercini said.

Firefighters atop the ridge were reporting numerous "hot spots" but no flame or fire during the morning, and were taking care to find and extinguish smoldering areas and any other area that appeared at risk of igniting a fire, Pedercini said. He expected that firefighters would be exiting the mountain and leaving the scene during the May 1 mid-afternoon.

Cause Unknown

The cause of the fire was unknown as of mid-morning.

"We may never know what started it, unless somebody stumbles onto something," Pedercini said.

It is unknown at this time who owns the property, but several individuals at the scene said they believe at least some of the property may be town-owned.

Many firefighters were already at the fire station or out fighting other fires when the Taconic fire was noticed; between about 3 p.m. and 6:45 p.m. April 30, several out-of-control brush fires were reported throughout the town.

Susan Bush may be reached via e-mail at suebush@iberkshires.com or at 802-823-9367.
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