The relatively snowless winter, followed by unseasonable warmth the past two weeks, has the region's firefighters on alert to the early potential for brush fires.
Both Georgetown and Seabrook firefighters already have donned gear this season to respond to brush fires.
Thursday night around 6, Georgetown firefighters, with the assistance of the Byfield Fire Department, responded to a brush fire in the area of the power lines off Thurlow Street. Before it was knocked down, the fire consumed an acre of vegetation, but it could have been worse.
Those who have fought brush fires say their concern over this season's threat comes from experience.
"They're very labor intensive. One of the biggest problems is getting to them, because they're usually out in the boonies," Seabrook fire Chief Jeff Brown said. "They're usually multi-municipal aid events. Most of the time, we drive in as far as we can, but we have to lay (hoses) by hand (from pumper trucks) to where the fires are."
Brown said Seabrook has already responded to a couple of small brush fires, one behind the ball park and also a mulch fire at Market Basket South.
"This is happening much earlier this year," he said.
Notoriously hard to put out, brush fires can appear to be extinguished in one area, then pop up in a spot 100 feet away, Brown said. That's because they travel underground, burning roots and peat, he said.
"The only thing that you can do is really soak the ground," Brown said.
Granite State officials are so concerned over the fire dangers that the N.H. Division of Forests and Lands sent out an alert. Officials say that as long as the warm, dry weather continues and people spend more time outdoors, brush fires may become more numerous.
"We typically still have snow cover and cold temperatures across much of the state in mid-March, but this year, we are seeing conditions more typical of mid-April," said Brad Simpkins, interim director of the division.
New Hampshire started taking precautions last week by getting fire towers ready for staffing and bringing on seasonal fire patrols several weeks earlier than normal. It also started issuing daily fire danger ratings, which are disseminated to fire departments and dispatch centers across the state to alert them of the risk of wildfires.
Yesterday, outdoor burning was restricted in both Massachusetts and New Hampshire because of the wind, as well as dry conditions.
"(Friday) was a class 4 (fire danger)," Brown said. "That means there's a total ban on all outdoor burning."
Although Salisbury and Seabrook fire departments had approved outdoor burn permits for yesterday for residents, the rules relating to permits require that permit-holders call their local departments to check burn status prior to setting their fire, Salisbury fire Capt. Michael Merritt said.
"You never know from day to day what's going to happen," Merritt said. "That's why they have to call and check."
In addition, there are a number of other requirements to follow before burning brush on private property. They include having a responsible adult present at all times while the fire is burning, having a garden hose attached to a water source nearby and not setting the fire within 75 feet of any dwelling. In addition, only certain materials are allowed to be burned. For example, grass, hay, leaves and pine needles are never allowed to be burned, nor are whole trees, stumps, construction or demolition materials.
Merritt said Salisbury has been fortunate so far this season, with no reports of brush fires. But in years past, brush fires have presented problems. Last year, there was a fire along one of Salisbury's recreation trails, he said.
Fires along the rail trails pose an added logistical difficulty for firefighters, since they're hard to access by firefighters clad in gear, and it's difficult to bring water to the site.
Both Merritt and Brown advises people who plan to spend time outdoors to be careful with any kind of fire and smoking materials as they enjoy local rail trails, woods or fields. Even beach dune grass can go up in smoke quickly, they said.
Carelessly tossing a lit cigarette away could be disastrous, as would neglecting any type of fire, they said. Being cautious when bringing motorized equipment — like ATVs — into a wooded area is also wise, for any spark can turn a pristine, isolated area into a blaze that can spread for acres, they said.