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Small Forest Fires Cropping Up In N.H. As Severe Drought Continues

Bow Fire Department

Update, 5 p.m. Wednesday: Concord fire officials say the Merrimack River island fire was extinguished this afternoon, though "hot spots" may flare up in the dry weather forecast for the coming days. 

The original story, posted midday Wednesday, continues below:

Fire crews are working to put out a blaze on a wooded island in the Merrimack River outside Concord as a severe drought creates high risk conditions for forest fires across New Hampshire. 

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The Merrimack River fire was first spotted by a local fisherman and a state police helicopter Tuesday evening, but responders had trouble accessing it in the dark.

Concord’s interim fire chief, Guy Newbery, said river levels are low due to the ongoing drought, which is also elevating the risk of fires.

He said crews will spend much of Wednesday putting out the fire, which now covers the entire two-acre island, which is uninhabited and contains no structures.

Newbery said the blaze is burning deep in the dry leaf litter as well as to the tops of trees, and could spread if gusty winds blow embers across the water. There’s no word yet on the cause of the fire.

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There were several other small forest fires extinguished near Concord and across New Hampshire in recent days, according to Newbery and state forest ranger captain Douglas Miner.

“There have also been several fires on [sic] the White Mountain National Forest that originated as campfires which were not properly extinguished,” Miner said in an email. “Some of these have involved many hours to hike into and to suppress in remote areas.”

Credit Nick Capodice / NHPR
A firefighter works to extinguish a blaze on an island in the Merrimack River on the Concord-Bow town line Wednesday.

State and local fire departments have been staffing fire towers and running air patrols to try and spot blazes before they spread out of control.

Miner said they responded to small fires in Milan on Sunday, Auburn on Monday, and Campton, Woodstock, Berlin and Barrington on Tuesday.

“Several other fire towers have detected illegal non-permitted burns … over the last few days,” he said. “We are still experiencing extended time on scene mopping up the fires due to the deep burning aspect of the incidents related to the drought.”

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In Vermont, another forest fire burned for multiple days before being contained near a popular recreation spot in Killington. It's thought to have stemmed from a campfire in the Green Mountain National Forest. 

Vermont and most of the region are also experiencing some form of drought, with extreme conditions in northern Maine and the south coast of southern New England. 

New Hampshire is not expected to see any substantial rain soon, perpetuating the severely dry conditions that are driving the risk of wildfires and affecting agriculture and drinking water wells.

The drought began in May, following a low-snow winter and one of the region’s hottest summers on record – both consequences of the rising carbon emissions that drive climate change.

Annie has covered the environment, energy, climate change and the Seacoast region for NHPR since 2017. She leads the newsroom's climate reporting project, By Degrees.
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