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Williamstown forest fire 75 percent contained, largest wildfire in the state since 1999

The East Mountain fire is 75 percent contained, fire officials said Monday.
The East Mountain fire is 75 percent contained, fire officials said Monday.Josh Mantello

A fire that has burned at least 800 acres of the Clarksburg State Forest since it broke out in Williamstown on Friday night was 75 percent contained by late Monday afternoon — making it the largest wildfire in the state in more than two decades, fire officials said.

The East Mountain fire started in a remote, wooded area of Williamstown that is difficult to reach, said Jennifer Mieth, a spokeswoman for the State Fire Marshal’s Office, in a statement. Williamstown is located in Western Massachusetts, near the New York border — more than 100 miles from Boston.

The blaze is the state’s largest wildfire since April 1999, when the Tekoa Mountain fire in Russell burned 1,100 acres and killed Russell Deputy Fire Chief John Murphy, fire officials said.

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Officials on Monday afternoon decided to pull firefighters out for the day, according to a joint statement from Williamstown Fire Chief Craig A. Pedercini, State Fire Warden David Celino, and North Adams Mayor Thomas W. Bernard.

“The fire is burning in steep, wooded terrain that is difficult to access,” they said. “Since no structures or people are in danger, it would be too dangerous for firefighters to continue working in the dark. They will need some rest and rehabilitation from this physically-taxing work.”

Firefighters will return Tuesday morning, and over the next several days they are expected to transition to patrolling and addressing hot spots, according to the statement.

Earlier Monday, 120 firefighters from 19 towns surrounding the forest worked to contain the blaze, and the Massachusetts National Guard and State Police conducted air operations, including dropping water, to help quell the flames, fire officials said.

One firefighter was injured while working to put out the blaze; he is hospitalized in “good condition,” fire officials said.

Atmospheric conditions have assisted firefighting efforts, though the fire will continue to burn through areas of the forest for several days as firefighters work to contain it. The fire’s growth has been accelerated by “dry leaf litter and surface fuel combined with low humidity and steep terrain,” Mieth said.

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The soil underneath the surface material is damp, so the fire is not burning deeply, and streams and brooks are acting as natural barriers to its spread, officials said.

The Appalachian Trail has been affected by the fire, Mieth said, and as a result, hikers should “stay clear of this area for their own health and safety.”

Charlie McKenna can be reached at charlie.mckenna@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @charliemckenna9.