Friday, April 21, 2000
Five-alarm brush fire endangers Rodgers Road area
At least 25 homes were threatened by a permitted fire that started on Stearns Street around 11 a.m. last Friday, April 14, got out of control and burned over 20 acres of wooded area backing up to houses on Rodgers Road and Baldwin Road. Units and equipment from Bedford, Billerica, Concord, Hanscom Field and Westford provided assistance before it was all over and Carlisle equipment returned to the station at 5:53 p.m. Fire chief Bob Koning estimated that 39-40 people were involved in fighting the fire and the police department had a patrol car and two officers on the scene throughout the afternoon.
Negligence blamed for blaze
Koning explained that the blaze was caused by "careless burning." Donald Markey of 414 Stearns Street had called in for a permit for open burning, but did not have a hose at the site and did not call in when the fire got out of control. According to Koning, Markey said he tried to put the fire out with a rake. The fire raged unreported until 11:40 a.m. when a Rodgers Road resident, who noticed the smoke and saw that flames were spreading behind the Rodgers Road homes, called in the first alarm. Markey's right to burn has been permanently suspended.
The fact that the fire was in the woods created problems of its own, one being that the apparatus could not get into the area and another that pumper trucks became a necessity. Koning was particularly grateful for the 5,000-gallon tank truck from Hanscom Field and he was glad that "the Malcom Meadows fire cistern worked out. What a break." Also, a lot of hose was required to fight the fire and "it takes a lot of effort to lug that hose into the woods," Koning said. Carlisle laid out over 2,000 feet of small line forestry hose and another 1,000 feet of feeder hose. Slogging through the woods with the hose was hard work and, at times, treacherous, according to Koning.
The fire spread so rapidly over a large area that it was hard to keep track of it and sense where it was going. Abetted by a slight breeze, it burned as far as the circle at the end of Rodgers Road. At that point, it jumped a stone wall and spread into the backyard of the Hackbarth home at 201 Baldwin Road. Janice and Peter Saul, who live next door to the Hackbarths called the dispatcher and said, "You'd better send somebody over to Baldwin Road," since at that point the fire was being fought off Stearns Street and Rodgers Road. When the report of fire in the Baldwin Road area was received, it was determined that the fire that had jumped the wall, was beyond the reach of the hose being used and it took a while until the Westford pumper truck could be freed up to combat the fire at the Baldwin Road site.
At the Hackbarth house, Stephanie Hackbarth's 90-year-old mother was home alone and oblivious to the commotion and emergency equipment on the next street. Helen Lyons, a neighbor, saw the fire jumping the wall and ran for the Hackbarth's hose. However, the water had been turned off inside the house and she had to go down to the basement, find the right valve, and open it. Then, she proceeded to hose down the leaves and area nearest to the stone wall. Deputy Fire Chief Dave Flannery arrived and stayed there with her until the Westford pumper made it to the site. Hackbarth credits Lyons with saving a lot, since the fire did not go over the wall into the areas that were hosed down, and she said, "If it weren't for Helen, I'm not sure what would have happened." After the fire truck pulled into the drive and the fire was under control, Lyons made the older woman a cup of tea and sat with her until a family member arrived home. A pumper truck returned to the site around 4:30 p.m. to hose down any hot spots.
A lot of work
Koning called the blaze "one of the worst ones we've had in a long time." He added, "It was luck that someone was home on Rodgers Road" to report the fire. He praised the crews, both the mutual aid crews from five neighboring towns and the 10 to 15 people from Carlisle's volunteer fire department. The crews were out for six hours on Friday, but were at the station until 7 p.m. dealing with the hose, which had to be rolled out again on Saturday. In all, it was an eight- to nine-hour clean-up job.
© 2000 The Carlisle Mosquito