Cape Ann (MA) Wins $131K for Wildfire Firefighting

Stephen Hagan – Gloucester Daily Times, Mass.

Feb. 21—Cape Ann’s fire departments have won a $131,000 state grant aimed at preventing and fighting wildfires.

“It’s for all of the Cape Ann towns,” Gloucester Fire Chief Eric Smith said of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation grant. “This grant is focused around community wildfire protection plans.”

The impetus for pursuing the grant was based, in part, on the 2022 wildfires on Poles Hill in Gloucester and Woodland Acres Rockport, Rockport Assistant Fire Chief Nathan Ives said. Both fires burned for months, injuring firefighters and costing the communities thousands of dollars in overtime, hoses, supplies and equipment.

Smith said the Cape Ann towns have agreed to divide the grant money based on the specific fire prevention needs in each municipality. Part of the effort has included the participation and input of the DCR Forest Warden Dave Celino.

It also will pay for 100% of the contract costs for hiring the Colorado-based company SWCA, which is known for assisting municipalities and organizations navigate environmental compliance processes, to create a Community Wildfire Protection Plan for the four Cape Ann communities.

“This effort has been a long time coming but the increased impact and rapid growth of wildfires in recent years necessitates the need to engage in this process to create a plan,” Smith said.

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Goals of the plan include:

  • Identifying areas at risk for wildland fire.
  • Recommending hazardous fuels treatments (vegetation thinning), fire staff resources and equipment and needed public education and outreach.
  • Making recommendations for homeowners to reduce fire risk on their properties.
  • Supporting fire departments to gain resources needed to aid in wildfire responses and preparedness.

The public can weigh in on the plan being created March 7 from 6 to 8 p.m. in Kyrouz Auditorium at Gloucester City Hall, 9 Dale Ave.

Enhancing mutual aid

In August 2022, the acrid smoke of brush and forest fires wafted over much of Essex County. Notably, more than 1,400 acres burned during almost 850 forest fires recorded during that year’s spring and summer.

In Rockport, for example, the Woodland Acres fire burned from late July and into August. In Gloucester, while area firefighters worked at containing the Poles Hill fire, the Massachusetts National Guard dumped gallons of water from helicopters, helping finally quell the blaze.

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Rockport Fire Chief Mark Wonson said putting down the 2022 wildfires that raged in Rockport was a challenge.

Since then, he has been working with area fire departments and state officials on the Wildfire Protection Plan.

Ives said the Wildfire Protection Plan will augment the mutual aid agreements Cape Ann’s communities already have in place.

“This will only enhance that,” he said. “That will never change. We have to have that to support each other’s towns. It’s a very valuable agreement.

“Of course we need to be planning for all hazards that affect Cape Ann. But (wildfires) drain your resources and exhaust your personnel.”

Ives pointed to the vast wooded interior of Cape Ann, including Rockport’s South Woods and Dogtown in Gloucester and Rockport, that calls for specialized fire services.

“All of us depend on mutual aid when things happen,” he said. “We’re all about planning so we can be proactive and prepared for any emergencies that might occur.”

Manchester-by-the-Sea Fire Chief James “Jake” McNeilly said part of the work will include a request to provide money to make fire lanes in wooded areas more accessible.

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“One of the things that have gone by the wayside is keeping our fire lanes open,” he said. “In the woods, there are paths we need to keep open and accessible.”

Many fire trails in open space areas, such the more than 1,500 acres of woodlands and wetlands in Essex and Manchester owned and protected by the Manchester Essex Conservation Trust, have been left unattended over the years and have become overgrown with vegetation. In many cases, he said, access to the fire trails is hampered by fallen trees and branches littering the paths, McNeilly said.

“This grant would serve to increase access to those areas,” he said. “We’ll be able to basically join this collaborative effort for the Cape Ann communities. The access makes it also easier to retrieve injured hikers. It’s kind of multifaceted.”

Stephen Hagan may be contacted at 978-675-2708, or [email protected].

Stephen Hagan may be contacted at 978-675-2708, or [email protected].

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(c)2024 the Gloucester Daily Times (Gloucester, Mass.)

Visit the Gloucester Daily Times (Gloucester, Mass.) at www.gloucestertimes.com

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Stephen Hagan – Gloucester Daily Times, Mass. Feb. 21—Cape Ann’s fire departments have won a $131,000 state grant aimed at preventing and fighting wildfires. “It’s for all of the Cape Ann towns,” Gloucester Fire Chief Eric Smith said of the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation grant. “This grant is focused around community wildfire protection plans.” The impetus for pursuing the grant was […]

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