Derby’s fire marshal thinks two brush fires that started about a half-mile apart on Route 34 Saturday could be linked to a spate of unsolved roadside arson fires dating back to 2012.
Though an official determination has not yet been made as to how they began, Fire Marshal Phil Hawks said he thinks it would be “too much of a coincidence” for the brush fires to have been accidental.
“This has been an ongoing issue for years now that there’s a section that goes from Stratford all the way up into Monroe that we keep having brush fires,” Hawks said.
He said he’ll consult with fire investigators from other communities to see if the blazes could be connected.
“We are looking into it with the state fire marshal’s office trying to compare notes with all the fire marshals to see what’s going on,” Hawks said.
Meanwhile firefighters in neighboring Seymour were called to put out a brush fire Saturday on a property owned by the Regional Water Authority off Haddad Road. But that fire isn’t thought to be linked to the Derby fire.
Seymour’s blaze started in what appeared to be an unattended campfire, Seymour Fire Marshal Wetowitz said, though he hasn’t yet made a definitive ruling.
It burned an area about 600 feet long by 100 feet wide before being brought under control by firefighters from Seymour, Beacon Falls, Bethany and Woodbridge.
In both Seymour and Derby, firefighters were also called back to the scenes on Sunday after the parts of the areas that had burned “rekindled” and had to be put out again.
When conditions are very dry, even a discarded cigarette could start a brush fire.
But Hawks said he doubts something like that could have caused separate fires to start Saturday a half-mile apart along Roosevelt Drive/Route 34 about 3 p.m. — one in land that’s part of Osbornedale State Park and another near McConney’s Grove.
“It’s too much of a coincidence,” Hawks said.
He noted a series of roadside fires dating back to 2012 — many of which would be started at the same time along different parts of roads in which investigators suspected were started by arson.
Intentionally set roadside brush fires have beset Derby, Shelton, Seymour, and Oxford since. Similar blazes have also been reported in Milford, Monroe, Orange, and Stratford.
State police offered a $2,500 reward in 2013 for information leading to an arrest and conviction, but no arrests have been made.
Information can be relayed to the Connecticut Arson Tip Hotline at 800-842-7766.
Trooper Kelly Grant, a state police spokesperson, said in an email Monday that the state fire marshal’s office had not yet been called to help out in the investigation of Saturday’s fires, and referred questions to local investigators.
Hawks asked that any witnesses to Saturday’s fires to call his office at 203-736-6976 after referring to the previous roadside arson fires.
“It seems like we’re starting to get them again,” he said. “Hopefully somebody saw something and will pass the information along.”
The fire in Osbornedale took about three and a half hours to bring under control, Derby Fire Department Assistant Chief David Lenart said.
He said the fire burned an area about the size of four football fields.
“It was windy,” Lenart said. “Because of the wind it grew pretty rapidly so we called in additional resources.”
A total of about 50 to 60 firefighters from Derby, Shelton, Ansonia, and Seymour responded, he said.
In addition to specialized “brush trucks” and utility vehicles that allow firefighters to get further into the woods, Lenart said firefighters also brought in an excavator to dig through piles of brush in an effort to prevent hotspots from reigniting later.
The embedded post is from the Derby Fire Department’s Facebook page:
Just like Derby, firefighters in Seymour were called back to the scene Sunday because the brush fire from Saturday was hot again.
That’s not unusual, Wetowitz, the Seymour fire investigator, said.
“That’s what happens when you have a fire burn underground and in logs if you don’t put enough water on it or if you miss it or don’t see it,” he said.