Lessons Learned When Woodlands Burn

The Branford Land Trust suffered a large brush fire on its property behind Orchard Avenue on the evening of January 24, 2021. It was a clear, cold, windy Sunday. The NFL Playoffs were on TV. Fortunately, observant neighbors saw the fire and dialed 911.

The BLT is grateful to those neighbors, and to the members of the Branford Fire Department who braved freezing temperatures and a 100-foot climb to put out the one-acre fire before it spread further and got worse. We also thank the firefighters in neighboring towns who responded to the Fire Department’s call for mutual aid.

It’s important note the impact to the people of our community: the neighbors who saw the blaze spread and feared for their homes; the firefighters who responded and put themselves in danger fighting the fire on rough, steep terrain, far from roads and hydrants; the firefighters’ families, whose lives were disrupted; the people in the neighborhood who are now thinking about what happened, what almost happened, and what to do about it; and the BLT volunteers who must evaluate appropriate steps to avoid a recurrence.

The BLT’s Property Use Guidelines are straightforward: No Fires. We remind the public, please do not set fires in our woodlands. Even contained fires, in fire pits, are not allowed. They’re not safe, and they damage the woods.

For those of you who walk in the woods, it’s important to remember that even in January, in the depth of winter, the forest floor is dry, and loaded with fuel. A carelessly tossed cigarette or a match that is not quite out is enough to start a fire. In dry, windy conditions, the fire can spread rapidly, and be “out of control” in seconds. If left undetected, it will continue to grow, burn woodlands, and threaten surrounding homes and buildings, until the Fire Department is alerted. Remember, it is always “fire season” in Connecticut.

To our neighbors — people who abut, or live near our properties — we ask you to keep your eyes open. There are no exceptions to our “No fires” rule. If you see a fire on Land Trust property, dial 911 immediately. It is far better for our first responders to put out the small fires, than for people to watch them grow. Also, if you see something on Land Trust property that doesn’t look right, speak up. Call us. Call the police. “If you see something, say something.”

The Branford Land Trust encourages public use of specific parcels of its properties for the enjoyment and appreciation of nature. Some parcels are not suitable for public access due to terrain, wetness, or ecological sensitivity, and we ask that those parcels be enjoyed visually only. On properties where BLT encourages passive recreation, we ask that users stay on designated trails and following our Property Use Guidelines.

If you know anything about the fire that occurred on January 24, please call the Branford Police Department.

The Branford Land Trust is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, accredited by the Land Trust Alliance, celebrating more 50 years of protecting Branford’s open space and natural resources. For more information about our properties, property use, or to become a member, please contact the Branford Land Trust, (203) 483-5263, info@branfordlandtrust.org.