Wildfire smoke has become a familiar site to hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail, thanks to a warming climate and lengthening fire seasons, but on the Appalachian Trail, it’s rare to unknown. That changed last week, with the discovery of Massachusetts’ largest fire in more than two decades.
The East Mountain Fire erupted in western Massachusetts in Williamstown, just north of Mount Greylock, on Friday night, quickly growing to the size of 180-acres in less than 24 hours. Just a few days later, the fire is nearly 1,000 acres in size, has devoured part of the Clarksburg State Forest, and is still sending up smoke visible from the nearby AT. The fire didn’t threaten any lives or buildings thanks to its remote location, though one firefighter has been hospitalized with minor injuries.
A fire of this magnitude hasn’t taken place in Massachusetts since 1999, when a 1,100-acre fire erupted on Tekoa Mountain. At publishing time, authorities said it was 90% contained. Over 120 firefighters from nearly two dozen towns worked to keep the flames at bay. The Massachusetts National Guard entered the ring on Monday when it began aerial water drops to help contain the fire.
The fire’s acreage may not look impressive next to last year’s western megafires—Colorado alone saw 1,100 square miles burn, more than the total land area of Rhode Island—but it’s massive for Massachusetts, which saw just 700 acres burn last year. Chief Fire Warden Dave Celino, with the Massachusetts Department of Conservation and Recreation suggested that last year’s drought might be to blame for the current fire’s magnitude since debris, dead trees, and leaves were littering the area prior to ignition. It’s also likely that escalating winds on Friday and Saturday contributed to the spreading of the fire. The exact cause of the fire is still under investigation.
Officials expect isolated spots in the fire area to burn for a few more days, though the effects of the blaze will stretch beyond that window. The Appalachian Trail is still open to hikers in the area, though the Appalachian Trail Conservancy says the area may remain smoky over the next few days. Hikers can monitor trail alerts and closures on the ATC’s site.