As fire suppression efforts on Tully Mountain in Orange continue, trails remain closed

  • The helicopter can make 15 runs before heading back to the Westfield-Barnes Regional Airport to refuel. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • A National Guard helicopter drops 400 gallons of water Tuesday afternoon on a brush fire on Tully Mountain in Orange that started the day before near the scenic overlook at the top of the mountain. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • Brush trucks from local fire departments off Mountain Road in North Orange, where a brush fire on Tully Mountain has been burning since Monday. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • A helicopter drops 400 gallons of water Tuesday afternoon on a brush fire on Tully Mountain in Orange that had been burning since Monday. Staff Photo/PAUL FRANZ

  • A National Guard helicopter is drawing water from Packard Pond and dropping it on a brush fire on Tully Mountain in Orange, about a quarter-mile away. Contributed photo/Orange Fire Department

  • A National Guard helicopter is drawing water from Packard Pond and dropping it on a brush fire on Tully Mountain in Orange, about a quarter-mile away. Contributed photo/Orange Fire Department

Staff Writer
Published: 8/12/2020 5:16:27 PM
Modified: 8/12/2020 5:16:20 PM

ORANGE — Tully Mountain hiking trails remained closed on Wednesday, as fire crews continued to suppress a brush fire that started Monday afternoon.

While Orange Fire Chief James Young said on Tuesday that the cause of the fire was still being determined, the Orange Fire Department noted in a subsequent statement that remnants of discharged fireworks and evidence of recent camping was located near the origin of the fire.

Like a recent brush fire on Joshua Hill in Leverett that eventually grew to consume more than 60 acres, Young said the “duff” — the layer of decomposing organic materials lying below a layer of freshly fallen twigs, needles and leaves, and immediately above the mineral soil — was a “tinderbox waiting to go up.” He said that while the fire on Tully Mountain isn’t large in size, it is burning deep into the ground, making it difficult to extinguish.

“It’s burning over a foot into the ground,” Young said.

The fire was first noticed at around 4:45 p.m. Monday by a resident of Holmes Road. Crews were deployed, equipped with hand tools and backpacks filled with water and a nozzle. A statement from the Orange Fire Department on Monday noted firefighters hiked to the top of the mountain and found an approximately 50-by-50-foot area that was on fire.

The blaze was contained; however, due to its remote and inaccessible location. in addition to the week’s hot weather and the fact that water needed to be physically hiked to the scene, a forestry working fire alarm was struck, bringing in mutual aid from New Salem, Athol and state District 9 Forest Fire units. The Phillipston Fire Department provided station coverage.

Crews remained at the site on Monday and worked until dark, when it became unsafe to continue. A fire line was dug to slow the fire’s spread overnight. Firefighters ascended the mountain again on Tuesday, and then again on Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Young said a National Guard helicopter arrived to drop water on the fire from above, drawing water from Packard Pond, about a quarter-mile away. Thirty-two water drops were made Tuesday, each containing 450 gallons of water.

“The helicopter was extremely beneficial,” reads an Orange Fire Department statement following Tuesday’s efforts.

While the department states that good progress was made Tuesday, the fire was not completely extinguished, and firefighters returned again on Wednesday. The department most recently reported that the fire is contained and isn’t spreading.

In addition to the mutual aid crews Tuesday, Young said members of the Salvation Army were providing water and food for firefighters. They also had a fire service rehab vehicle, with air conditioning, on site to keep firefighters from overheating.

“We’re taking all precautions to keep everyone safe,” Young said.

Zack DeLuca can be reached at zdeluca@recorder.com or 413-930-4579.


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