Derry firefighter Rob Atwater, center, gets a refill on water as he helps to put out a brush fire off English Range Road in Derry on Tuesday afternoon. At far left, assisting him, is fellow Derry firefighter Gregg Mattson and at far right is fellow Derry firefighter Marcus Cartier, who was pumping fire hoses. Several area fire departments were on the scene to assist in putting out the brush fire.

DERRY | A brush fire on English Range Road on the afternoon of Tuesday, May 8, ravaged 2 1/2 acres before firefighters were able to get it under control.

The fire broke out at 3:30 p.m. on a day when the entire state was warned of extreme fire danger. It took six towns and at least 40 firefighters to extinguish the blaze, fire Chief George Klauber said.

"It may seem like overkill but it's not," Klauber said. "We need as many men on the scene as soon as possible."

There was some concern that the high winds would cause the fire to spread to residential areas. It came within three-eighths of a mile of homes on English Range Road and Buttonwood Drive.

The New Hampshire Division of Forests and Lands cautioned that high temperatures, low humidity and gusty winds would make outdoor fires unpredictable and dangerous across the state this week.

While large brush fires on the West Coast usually make headlines in the summer, April and May are the most dangerous months in New England, said Brad Simpkins, chief of forest protection for the state.

"That span between when all the snow melts but before things green up," Simpkins said. "There's a lot of dry fuel on the ground from last fall and the sun is able to get down on the forest floor."

A pattern of dry days with unseasonably low humidity and bright sunshine contributed to the fire danger, drying out tree stumps and fallen logs and making fires burn longer and larger.

"The wind is just like a blow-dryer and all those things combined have dried out fuels," Simpkins said.

A fire that started Monday afternoon in Chesterfield burned through the night, destroying 30 acres on Wantastiquet Mountain in western New Hampshire. Simpkins said the state only sees a handful of fires that large each year.

The causes of that fire and the Derry fire are unknown, but Simpkins and Klauber said they were likely due to people in the woods.

"Ninety-five percent of our fires are caused by humans, unlike in the West where there are a lot of lightning strikes," Simpkins said.

The most common causes include unattended or improperly extinguished campfires and smoking materials. Juveniles playing with matches or lighters and off-road vehicles also can cause dangerous sparks.

New Hampshire experiences about 500 brush fires a year, and only about 24 of those are caused by natural elements such as lightning, Simpkins said.

The best way to play Smokey Bear and prevent outdoor fires is caution, fire officials said. People are required to apply for burn permits at their local fire departments, where an officer will outline rules and safety tips.

Londonderry Fire Marshal Mark Tetreault advises residents to get their permits the day they plan to burn, so they get the most current safety information.

On high danger days such as yesterday, considered a Category 5 day, a person asking for a permit would be told no burning is allowed.

"Category 5 is the highest fire danger so anything | if somebody throws a cigarette out a window | it would likely start a fire," Tetreault said.

Even items commonly found at home such as charcoal grills become a hazard. Residents should keep grills away from grass and brush, and should wet the area around the grill as an extra precaution, Tetreault said.

"The important thing is not to take these things for granted. A small fire in these conditions can grow rapidly and have devastating effects," Klauber said.

Fire warnings are expected to continue through much of the week.

"It we get rain, that will lower the danger, but in the long term as the woods green up, the fire danger goes down," Tetreault said.

The National Weather Service is reporting a 40 percent chance of rain Friday.

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