The worsening Massachusetts drought has elevated the risk of wildfires, sparking intense blazes around the state over the weekend and limiting the ability of officials to send help as huge fires endanger communities in the Western United States.
On Sunday, a crew of 20 federally employed firefighters from Massachusetts — including from the Cape Cod National Seashore — arrived in Idaho to help contain the Pioneer Fire, an 88,755-acre blaze that dates to July.
But firefighters from state agencies have not been able to follow suit this summer as they normally would, according to the Northeastern Forest Fire Protection Compact, a regional organization that organizes the dispatch of local fire crews to other states.
In Massachusetts, the Department of Conservation and Recreation has been sending crews out west since 1985, but the increased risk that came with the drought made this year an exception, said Chief Fire Warden Dave Celino.
“This could be an off year for our state crew, because we’ve been so dry, Celino said. “We’re sitting right in the epicenter of the drought.”
This makes the fires “more labor-intensive,” Celino said. “The problem is that every single fire that is an acre or more that has any kind of chance to burn is a two- or three-day project,” he said.
Over the weekend, a brush fire in West Roxbury escalated to four alarms and burned through Saturday night into Sunday.
“The West Roxbury fire, it’s a great example of what we’re dealing with all summer long,” Celino said. “That fire is going to burn deep.”
On Sunday, a 2-acre fire continued to burn in Hawksnest State Park in Harwich, Celino said. Though it’s 90 percent contained, the work won’t be over for at least a few days, he said.
“It burned very deep, about a foot into the ground,” Celino said.
“A lot of people don’t realize how many wildfires we have in the Northeast,” Celino said. So far there have been 1,336 wildfires of a quarter-acre or more, according to data from the department.
About 140 towns provided assistance to these fires.
The fires are also taking a toll on firefighters, he said. Smoke inhalation is the main risk, though there have been no major injuries this year, Celino said.
“A month or so down the road, if the weather pattern doesn’t change this pattern is concerning to us,” he said.
So far, temperatures have been above average for Boston this summer, and July was the hottest month on record.
Since January, rainfall in the state has totaled 19.3 inches, compared with 27.5 inches at this time last year, said Kim Buttrick, a National Weather Service meteorologist.
“So far, temperatures have been above average for August,” she said. “And that’s not good for the drought.”Alexandra Koktsidis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @akoktsidis.