Not easy being green this year; Despite the snow, risk of fire remains.
Snowy remnants of the long, cold winter may still be found in some woods of Central Massachusetts, but it doesn't rule out the possibility of an active wildfire season.
The state's chief fire warden for the Department of Conservation and Recreation, David V. Celino, says the gradual snow melt will forestall any deep-burning, below-ground-level fires, but has no effect on surface conditions.
"During this period before leaf out, even a few hours of gusty winds, low humidity and warm temperatures can spike the potential for wildfire,'' Chief Celino said.
Leaf litter, grasses and anything up to a quarter-inch in diameter on the forest floor can dry out and burn in less than 24 hours, he said.
The fire warden said he has been in regular contact with meteorologists at the National Weather Service office in Taunton to gauge fire conditions.
The current weather pattern that is drawing very dry air from central Canada along with direct sunlight, temperatures in the upper 60s and low 70s, and any wind at all, is a recipe for easy combustion, he said.
That window of opportunity for red-flag days will continue, Chief Celino said, until shrubs and trees begin taking up moisture and leafing out.
"The one significant impact of the long winter of heavy snow cover and the below average temperatures is the delay in green-up. A year ago at this time everything was much greener,'' he added.
Open brush burning season statewide ends April 30, but the fire warden noted the deep snow that prevented many homeowners from getting to and successfully burning brush may mean a greater chance for out-of-control permit fires as people rush to beat the deadline.
Issuing of daily burning permits remains at the discretion of local fire chiefs, but as was the case of the statewide red flag warning on Wednesday, that decision typically is influenced by the National Weather Service and DCR Fire Control recommendations.
More than 50 firefighters battled a 4-acre brush fire Wednesday afternoon on challenging terrain in Warren.
The weather service had posted a statewide red flag fire weather warning that day as wind, temperature and relative humidity set the stage for increased fire danger. The Warren fire was the result of the illegal, out-of-control burning of a brush pile in which the homeowner had used an accelerant.
Chief Celino said current conditions also increase the likelihood of sparks from trains igniting along railroad tracks as well as tossed cigarette butts lighting dry grass along roads and highways.
"We've seen a number of these fires already this year,'' he said.
The fire warden said the melting snow has rivers and fire ponds in good shape as a water supply for fighting rural fires throughout the region.
"DCR is in good shape in terms of personnel and equipment and the fire towers across the state are up and manned,'' he said.
Towers looking over Central Massachusetts include Charlton, Mendon, Wachusett in Princeton, Sudbury and Ludlow, he said.
"The main objective of our district fire wardens is passing along information from the weather service, looking a day or two ahead as to what they can expect for fire conditions. They also coordinate training and logistical support in wildland fire management,'' he said.
Given the current and future extreme drought conditions in the western states, Chief Celino said in all likelihood DCR would be sending a wildfire crew out West this summer.
The largest wildfire in 2014 was one that covered 256 acres at Devens, Chief Celino said.
"This was a low-impact fire that burned itself out. Otherwise the largest fire was a blaze that covered 90 acres in the city of Peabody,'' he said.
Typically the average fire size is an acre or less which speaks well of the abilities of DCR personnel and local departments in locating and extinguishing brush fires, the fire warden said.
According to Stephanie Dunten, meteorologist at the National Weather Service office in Taunton, red flag warning days during the spring are predicated on wind speeds in excess of 25 miles per hour; relative humidity of less than 30 percent; and no more than a quarter of an inch of rain within the previous three days.
Ms. Dunten said the immediate outlook calls for diminishing winds and occasional showers reducing the fire risk.
"There's no evidence now, based on the forecast, of a prolonged fire season,'' she said.
Fire Deputy Chief Geoffrey Gardell, of the Worcester Fire Department, said the department is just now setting up its two forestry trucks for the coming season.
"Our brush fire season really depends on what kind of winter we've had. If things green up quickly and there is no prolonged dry spell we should be OK,'' the deputy said.
There is no open burning season for brush within the city limits so most brush fires, he said, are along railroad tracks, roadsides, or the result of children playing with matches.
"There aren't a whole lot of wildland areas in the city that we can't reach with our engines, so in that instance we're fortunate,'' the deputy chief added.
Chief Adam S. Lavoie of the Warren Fire Department said the training and logistics of having strike teams on call made a significant difference in keeping the Southbridge Road fire to four acres.
"The way it is set up now we can get instant brush-fire help by making a single phone call,'' he said.
Despite gusty winds, having to establish a tanker relay away from the scene, and cover a quarter mile of rugged terrain on foot and with off-road vehicles, the fire crews at the scene made a good stop, Chief Lavoie said.