PITTSFIELD -- A rash of recent brush fires in the Berkshires has fire officials urging people to use care and caution today -- the last day of the year to obtain an outdoor burn permit in Massachusetts.
Pittsfield, Egremont, Lanesborough and Windsor are among those communities whose fire departments have battled stubborn brush fires stemming from "controlled" fires this month. Two fires in Egremont and Windsor were caused by embers that people thought they had doused, but later had re-ignited.
"We've been pretty fortunate not to have any flare-ups of our own -- but they can happen to anybody," said Pittsfield Fire Chief Robert Czerwinski.
Aside from common sense, Czerwinski said homeowners must adhere to state regulations governing outdoor burning. The rules include:
-- Burn only brush. No leaves, grass, hay, stumps, construction debris or any other materials can be tossed onto the fire.
-- A garden hose or other appropriate means to extinguish the fire must be ready at all times.
-- All open burning must be at least 75 feet from a building or structure.
-- Never leave a brush fire unattended.
Czerwinski said those who ignore the regulations are "people who push [safety] to the limit."
Last week, a fire that re-ignited from a controlled burn in Egremont destroyed a storage barn and singed the shingles of a home next door. A similar fire on Sunday scorched two acres of high grass in Windsor and threatened the home of Ryan and Caitlin Larabee.
"We would like to especially thank the firefighters ... for keeping our son's home safe," said Ryan's mother, Lynn Larabee, in an email to The Eagle.
Today is the last chance Massachusetts residents have in 2013 to obtain a burning permit, according to the state Department of Environmental Protection. The outdoor burning season started Jan. 15.
Homeowners can obtain permits by calling their city or town fire department. In addition, residents of Pittsfield, Becket, Great Barrington, Lanesborough, Lee, Lenox, Stockbridge, Peru and Richmond can access a permit online at bcburnpermits.com.
Permits are available from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m., with open fires allowed from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., according to Department of Environmental Protection regulations.
If it becomes too dry or if wind becomes an issue, state and local fire officials can halt or cancel outdoor burns -- even at a moment's notice -- until the fire danger passes.
Berkshire County fire officials say gusty winds fanned the flames of the more serious local brush fires in recent weeks.