Still-Smoldering Dilly Cliff Wildfire is One of About 200 Yearly in N.H.

Oct 26, 2017

Dilly Cliff fire, as pictured nearly three weeks ago, in North Woodstock.
Credit KEN WATSON / KENWATSON.NET

An isolated forest fire in North Woodstock is so stubborn that even this rainy weather is not fully putting it out.

Woodstock Fire Chief John MacKay says the Dilly Cliff fire that was first reported Oct. 3 is contained, but some spots are still smoldering.

"With this rain the last two days I’d say it’s probably 90 percent put out," MacKay said today on NHPR's The Exchange.

"I'm sure there's still going to be a few hot spots here and there that we’ll have to wait till snow to get to.”

MacKay says he believes the fire was started by a camp fire or careless person with a cigarette.

The wildfire is on land owned by the Society for the Protection of NH Forests, near the Lost River Gorge on Route 112. No property nor injuries were reported.

In those first days, however, the fire truly raged.

“The hillside lit up like a Christmas tree. It was amazing,” says Will Abbott, SPNHF vice president of Policy and Reservation Stewardship.

 Listen to The Exchange's Thursday program. 

The multi-agency firefighter response reminded the public of the forest fire risk that occurs annually. It’s more common than most people think.

“We have on average about 200 wildfires a year and they burn on average about 400 acres,” says Brad Simpkins, director of the N.H. Division of Forests and Lands. “It’s really cyclical. When we get into droughts like we had last year - last year was one of the busiest years we had had since the mid-1980s - and the year before that was also a busy year.”

The vast majority of those fires are small and burn a half acre or so.

Drought conditions pose concern.

Heidi Asbjornsen, associate professor of ecosystem ecology at the University of New Hampshire, sees the Dilly Cliff fire as a possible indicator that fire risk may be increasing in New Hampshire. The forecast for climate change portends more overall rainfall, but also more prolonged periods of drought, she says. New Hampshire’s forests, including beech and birch trees, are not as fire-adapted as trees in the western U.S.

Firefighters regroup at the Dilly Cliff fire in early October.
Credit Sean Hurley/ NHPR

Other highlights of the show:

  • If the fire in question was smaller and more remote, crews might have elected to let it burn itself out, while being monitored.
  • Joe Koloski, acting Deputy Forest Supervisor for the White Mountain National Forest, said as the Dilly Cliff fire continued to burn after the first days, incident commanders reached out for support crews. Crews from the upper Midwest and personnel from South Carolina responded in a mutual-aid dispatch.
  • Simpkins says fires caused by lightning are more common in the West, but are rare in New Hampshire. In the Granite State, 95 percent of wildfires are caused by humans.