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Middletown brush fires fully contained, state officials say

Bruce Villwock, district fire warden, hauls a hose used to wet down land adjacent to a controlled burn in Waterford in 2019.
Patrick Skahill
Connecticut Public
Bruce Villwock, district fire warden, hauls a hose used to wet down land adjacent to a controlled burn in Waterford in 2019.

A brush fire that spread through more than 160 acres in Middletown has been fully contained, according to the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection (DEEP). The fire started Tuesday when windy conditions brought down power lines.

“It is 100% contained,” said DEEP spokesperson Will Healey in a Thursday night email. “Fire personnel mopped up hot spots and strengthened containment lines today.”

Officials with the utility provider Eversource said Thursday morning that the transmission lines in the area were not damaged, and the electrical system continues to operate normally.

In a statement Wednesday night, DEEP said state and local responders had wrapped up containment “burn outs” on the fire’s edge. Burn outs are intentionally set fires that help contain the larger blaze.

Chris Martin, DEEP’s director of forestry, said the spongy moth, which heavily infested Middlesex County in 2017 and 2018, “resulted in tens of thousands of oak trees dying” and complicated the response to the fire.

“Those trees acted as ladder fuels,” said Martin. “It was almost like a West Coast situation where the fire climbed up the trees 30, 40, ... 50 feet. And with the wind, embers then flew off the top of those trees, landing some distance away and creating more fire.”

While the larger fire was burning, state officials said another fire also started in Middletown, near an Eversource substation. They said the cause remains unconfirmed. Officials ruled out lightning strikes or downed power lines.

“The nearby smaller fire is just under 22 acres and is fully contained,” said Healey.

Tricia Taskey Modifica, a spokesperson for Eversource, said in a statement that “we’re working with Middletown fire officials to better understand what may have caused the brush fire. We do know [Tuesday's] windy conditions brought a tree down on our distribution lines in an area near the brush fire. We also know that the fire did at one point begin to approach our transmission lines in the area, however they were not damaged.”

“The situation continues to wind down, and tomorrow, both fires will be in ‘patrol status,’ said Healey.

Jennifer Ahrens contributed to this report.

Updated: May 12, 2022 at 11:26 AM EDT
This story has been updated.
Patrick Skahill is a reporter and digital editor at Connecticut Public. Prior to becoming a reporter, he was the founding producer of Connecticut Public Radio's The Colin McEnroe Show, which began in 2009. Patrick's reporting has appeared on NPR's Morning Edition, Here & Now, and All Things Considered. He has also reported for the Marketplace Morning Report. He can be reached at pskahill@ctpublic.org.

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