Dry conditions, lower than normal rainfall and low humidity levels have combined to create high levels of wildfire risk in Massachusetts woodlands this spring, leading to the largest wildfire in more than 20 years in May.
On May 14th a wildfire broke out in the steep Pine Cobble forest in Williamstown near the Vermont border and spread uphill through dry woodlands into the adjoining Clarksburg State Forest and woodlands in North Adams. Very dry conditions and the remote steep terrain allowed the fire to spread rapidly, burning nearly 950 acres before wildland firefighters were able to get in contained on May 18th. While fire lines have been established around 90 percent of the fire, hot sports and other pockets of flames still exist and will likely not be totally extinguished until there is significant rainfall.
The fire forced closure of part of the Appalachian Trail in Clarksburg and burned over a campground destroying a tent platform.
The Berkshire County fire is the largest blaze reported in Massachusetts since an 1,100 acre wildfire in Russell in 1999.
Lack of snowfall in March resulted in low precipitation totals that put the state back into drought status in early April. A period of rainy weather later in April temporarily relieved the dry conditions, but lack of rain in the past two weeks have made the leaf litter and downed wood very dry and easy to kindle.
Other wildfires have been reported elsewhere in Massachusetts in mid May due to the prolonged dry weather. Anyone working or camping in the woods should be careful to avoid creating sparks that might start fires.