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Most of state in severe drought, officials say, creating conditions conducive to wildfires

Members of the National Guard pulled hoses so that they can battle a wildfire in Rockport that has been burning since July.Jessica Rinaldi/Globe Staff

Nearly all of Massachusetts remains under severe or extreme drought, according to the US Drought Monitor’s weekly report on Thursday, as wildfires continued to burn across the state.

The report said that 96 percent of the state is now facing severe or extreme conditions, up from 94 percent last week, despite two days of rain earlier in the week.

This week's rain did not ease drought conditions in Massachusetts.US DROUGHT MONITOR

Nearly 40 percent of the state is in extreme drought, mostly in the eastern part. Extreme drought is the monitor’s second-most severe category, behind exceptional drought.

And this week’s rain brought little relief in the battle against the wildfires, according to the state Department of Fire Services.

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“Some communities have had some rain but not enough to eliminate the #WildlandFire hazard,” the DFS tweeted.

Under extreme drought conditions, crop loss is widespread, wildlife disease outbreaks are possible, and there is a “reduced flow to ceased flow of water,” among other factors, the drought monitor said.

As global warming progresses, drought is expected to become more common in New England. Warmer temperatures can speed up evaporation rates and leave soil parched while also diminishing snowfall in the winter, resulting in less moisture from “snowmelt” in spring. That could, in turn, make wildfires more common. As drought dries out grasses and trees it makes them more flammable and creates conditions for fast-spreading fires.

The entrance to Lynn Woods Reservation at Pennybrook Drive is closed “due to fire.” Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Officials said this week that the drought has exacerbated conditions conducive to fires breaking out in the state. On Thursday, DCR Chief Fire Warden David Celino said crews were still battling a dozen wildfires.

“We still have a dozen ongoing wildfire incidents that are either still in suppression operations or in control and monitor” status, Celino said Thursday in a phone interview.

Among some bright notes, though, was improvement in conditions at 75-acre Breakheart Reservation in Saugus, where fires have been blazing for more than a week.

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Crews battling those fires were aided by “the combination of both two days of a little [rain], the higher humidity, and then two operations using helicopters in some of the areas that were really hot and had concerned us,” he said.

Also, in Marlborough, a 25-acre fire at the Desert Conservation Area was 100 percent contained Thursday, while an 86-acre fire in the Burrill Hill area of the Lynn Woods Reservation was 90 percent contained, Celino said.

And a wildfire in the Briarwood area of Rockport, which officials have said spanned 19 acres, was contained Thursday as well, Celino said, as was a 12-acre fire at the Georgetown-Rowley State Forest.

In addition, Celino said, “a number of fires in southern Worcester County [have been kept] fairly small,” and other scattered wildfires have been limited to an acre or less.

But the contained fires present potential hazards.

“That’s because we’re going to continue to have heat in the middle of those fires,” Celino said. “We’ve still got to keep an eye on them until we know they’re 100 percent out.”

DCR officials said on Wednesday that Breakheart Reservation would remain closed due to “active wildland fires.”


Celino echoed those comments.

“Elevated fire risk will return,” he said. “We want the public to understand that and not have a false sense of security because we had rain in different pockets of the state” earlier in the week.

On the plus side, Celino said, no one on the fire crews has suffered a major injury while battling the blazes, and no property has been lost.

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“It’s been one of our success stories through this whole drought-driven event,” he said.

Dharna Noor of the Globe staff contributed to this report.



Travis Andersen can be reached at travis.andersen@globe.com.