Century-old method helps crews locate, battle brush fires

(Western Mass News photo)

Fire crews in western Massachusetts responded to several brush fires Tuesday, thanks to the perfect recipe of weather conditions: low humidity, warm temperatures, sunlight, and a decent breeze.

Yet, it can be tough for departments to respond to fires in remote areas and that is where the state's Department of Conservation and Recreation comes in.

In the last three days, there have been 120 wildfires across the Commonwealth and they can be really difficult to spot on the ground, especially in wooded areas, but the best way to get a view point is from up above.

The Western Mass News SkyDrone captured Pelham fire operator Erin hard at work on Tuesday:

"It looks like it's got some wind on it," said Mass. DCR Chief Fire Warden Dave Celino.

It's one of 42 towers across the state on-alert today as the risk for fires is four out of five.

"Low relative humidities and some winds and direct sunlight the last three days come together to create this fire story and fire risk," Celino added.

Just before noon time, two smokes - as Erin and Dave call them - were spotted from the tower: one near Huntington and another in Easthampton.

Using centuries old technology, Erin gets to work using a compass table. She takes an azimuth reading before calling the tower operator in Goshen.

"I see a smoke, looks maybe Easthampton, on my 251 line," Erin said.

Erin can take the other towers measurements to a map:

"They will use a very high tech piece of equipment of string and a weight to cross those lines," Celino said.

That 'X' marks the smoke. which is helpful to local departments:

"If we can get them within a half a mile, boy that saves a lot of time," Celino added.

It's getting into a busy season for tower operators as the lack of forest canopy and weather conditions create the perfect recipe for fires.

"Towers are the eyes in the skies and it's an important job for us on a day like today," Celino said.

Celino said that 98 percent of the wildfires in the state are caused by humans. The first fire spotted from the tower was a resident burning under a permit that got of control, so the chief asks that you monitor the temperature, weather, and conditions to avoid creating a smoke that needs to be spotted from this tower.

Copyright 2018 Western Mass News (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.

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