COD BRUSH BREAKERS
"A pictorial history of the unique forest firefighting apparatus"
First Edition January 2001 - Re-launched January 2022 - Page Updated January 10, 2022
| MAIN | HISTORY | FIRES | APPARATUS | DEPARTMENTS | YEARS |
|03 - FIRES PAGE|
|03 - FIRES PAGE|
|03 - FIRES PAGE|
|1780 - Upper Cape Forest Fire - 25,000 acres "The Dark
1900 - Sept 12-15 - Carver-Plymouth "Great Fire"
1907 - Upper Cape Fire - Seen from Onset
1923 - May 30 - Pocasset Forest Fire - 7 days - 25,000 acres
1937 - Spring - Bourne-Plymouth Forest Fire - 300 acres - Herring Pond
1937 - April 27 - Forest Fire Sandwich - 3 Firemen Killed / Route 130 Memorial
1937 - May 4 - Forest Fire Plymouth - Pine Hills area - 2 Firemen Killed, others burned
1937 - May 4 - Other Plymouth Fires - Island Pond & Summer St - 700 men fought fires
1937 - May 5 - Hyannis - Forest Fire Ridgewood Ave 2000 acres (Burned up 1937 Breaker)
1957 - May 8 - Carver-Plymouth-Myles Standish - 15,000 acres
1957 - May 8 - Mashpee Plane Crash Forest Fire Hay Road
1964 - May 23 - South Carver - Large Forest Fire
1964 - May 25 - South Carver-Wareham - 5,500 acres
1965 - May 1 - Otis-Sandwich Forest Fire - Jumped Route 6
1971 - May 15 - Plymouth - Myles Standish - 165 acres - 2 fore trucks burned
1986 - March - Otis Forest Fire - Large fire
1986 - April 19 - Otis Forest Fire - Wood Road
1988 - April 22 - Otis Forest Fire - PAVE PAWS 2000 acres
1991 - Plymouth 1200 acres
1995 - May 8 - Plymouth Bourne Road area - 95 acres, homes threatened
2005 - April 18 - Plymouth Forest Fire Clark Estates 30 acres
2005 - April 20 - Barnstable Mary Dunn Road fire
2007 - April 1 - Nantucket - Large brush fire - Mutual aid from Cape
|The story of the Cape Cod Brush Breakers begins with an
understanding of the land and its unique forest fire history.
Cape Cod, also known as Barnstable County, is a bent arm shaped peninsula protruding approximately 70 miles into the ocean off the southeastern coast of Massachusetts. The land was created thousands of years ago by the retreat of glacial ice, which deposited clay, rocks, boulders, and a mostly sandy soil. Huge chunks of ice that melted formed many of the ponds, lakes, and rivers found across the area. The coastline is pocketed with many salt water harbors and bays, and numerous marshlands and wetland bogs. Inland areas, some with considerable hills, were covered by vast acres of evergreen pitch pine tree forests.
Just "off Cape" on the mainland side are similar lands within what is known as Plymouth and Bristol counties. To the south of the Cape are the islands of Martha's Vineyard and Nantucket that also share similar natural conditions as the Cape.
Strong, warm, southwesterly winds in the spring and into the fall tended to dry the forests making them as explosive as tinder when a fire started. The wind driven forest fires would frequently burn thousands of acres of forest unchecked year after year.
Native "Indians" who lived in the area would cultivate their land and protect their settlements by "firing the woods" seasonally to reduce the undergrowth and thereby effectively manage to keep the larger fires from their lands.
After the arrival of the Pilgrims in 1620 and with the eventual inhabitation of the lands by more and more people, areas of forests were cut down to create farm lands and to build homes. Harvested wood heated homes and even enabled industry to flourish in the area.
Inhabitants throughout history frequently faced many wild fires that threatened their lands, homes, and businesses. Fires that grew to thousands of acres would burn for days, creating billowing clouds of heavy, dark, choking smoke that filled the sky. Wind driven fires were nearly impossible to stop and frequently burned until weather changed or the fire reached a natural break such as water.
In the late 1800s and early 1900s, fire towers were erected on high grounds so that spotters could observe and report incipient fires. During the 1920s fire patrol trucks worked in conjunction with fire towers to spot and attempt to quickly extinguish wildland fires even before some fire departments were organized.
As motorize vehicles became more powerful and available in the 1930s, 1940s, and beyond, a variety of fire apparatus designed specifically to address the dangerous forest fires were built.
Forestry studies in the early 1920s found that the explosive nature of forest fires in southeastern Massachusetts rivaled conditions in California and other areas where fires rapidly outrun efforts to contain them.
Many major fires over the years have claimed thousands of acres of wildland, numerous structures, and have claimed a number of lives.
Brush Breakers are not utilized in other parts of the country the way they are here. Topography of the land and other factors make them useful here and over the decades they have been used to contain and control many fires which otherwise would have grown much larger and caused much more of a threat to lives and property.
During the larger forest fires, brush breakers working in groups work to surround and contain the fires so they can be extinguished using water carried by the brush breakers. Tankers, or tenders as they may be called, position on dirt roads or other safe spots to resupply the brush breakers as they make trip after trip back into the fire until it is controlled.
Over the years, fire tower spotters would observe smoke as fires began. Two or more towers would utilize compass lines and maps to cross up a general area of where the fire is located (way before GPS was even imagined). This information was then relayed via phone or radio to crews that would respond to the fire. A system of mutual aid was developed to manage the large fires that could quickly exceed the ability of one or two trucks to handle. Radio communications and basic incident command systems were utilized, again long before the formalized incident command systems and communications systems we consider standard today.
In 1780, an early morning lightning storm started a fire in
the woods. Clouds of dark smoke filled the sky to the west of Sandwich in what
was called "The Dark Day." It had been for generations, the practice
to "fire the woods" each year as the Indians had done, usually in April, to burn
off the grass and
In 1887, a huge forest fire burned over 25,000 acres from the Pocasset
section of Bourne to Sandwich. This fire destroyed approximately 600
cord of stacked wood at the Sandwich Glass Company as well as several
stands of oak and pine ready for cutting. The Glass company was forced
to then purchase and burn coal in its furnaces at a substantial financial
cost. This, along with a labor union strike, ultimately contributed to the
On May 30,1923 a fire began in the woods in Pocasset village. By the end of the day, it was thought that the fire was out. By morning however, it picked up again, burning through the day. Once again, it was believed that it was under control by nightfall, only to flare up again and again for 7 days. An area of approximately 25,000 acres, between Pocasset village, Sagamore, Sandwich, East Sandwich, and South Sandwich was left blackened.
The State Commissioner of Conservation stated that "something was radically wrong" adding that the fire could have been contained to about 1,000 acres if it had been properly handled since it was not even a "fire day." Following this fire, the state purchased hundreds of acres of burned over forest in Bourne and Sandwich and created the Shawme State Forest in 1923. The name was changed in 1938 to the Shawme-Crowell State Forest, honoring Lincoln Crowell for his long dedication to the Cape's forests. Crowell was killed in 1938 when the patrol truck he was in was struck by a train in Brewster.
"A concerted national fire prevention program (dealing with wildland fires) did
until two experiments in 1928.... The Cape Cod Forest Fire Prevention experiment
Forest fires can be extremely dangerous, especially when fought by hand. One of the worst fires ever on Cape Cod struck on April 27, 1938. A number of fires were burning on the Cape and in Plymouth County, when another fire began in Sandwich Bourne Deputy Chief Gibbs took a crew of young men, volunteers, with him in to fight the fire west of what is now Route 130 in Sandwich. 40 mile per hour winds fanned the flames and the men were soon trapped by the fire. All received serious burns. Three men, Thomas Adams, age 43; Gordon King, age 34, and Ervin Draber, age 28 died that day fighting this forest fire. A memorial stands today near the site where they died.
There have been many major forest fires over the years. Scenes such is this were common across the Cape and in Plymouth County each year with many of these fires burning hundreds or thousands of acres. The 1930s saw a number of particularly bad fires, including the April 1937 fire that came out of the military reservation into Sandwich which took the lives of 3 firemen. A bi-plane can be seen in this photo, perhaps it was providing information on the size and direction of the fire.
April 19-23, 1946 a large forest fire burned some 15,000 acres over
an 8-1/2 mile path from the Cape Cod Canal near the Bourne Bridge
into East Sandwich. The fire burned over several days and brought
help from fire departments all over Massachusetts. A recently found
State Forest Fire movie documents the fire, and how brush breakers
and fire apparatus battled the blaze.
CARVER FIRE - 1964
The fire tower spotted a fire starting up in the Farm-to-Market Road area of South Carver on Monday May 25, 1964 at about 1"00 PM near where a large fire had been fought two days earlier. Just 3 minutes later, another fire was spotted in the Suther's Marsh Road area off Federal Furnace Road. Eight brush breakers from Carver and Plymouth responded to the Suther's Marsh Road fire. Apparatus from Myles Standish and Wareham responded to the South Carver fire. The Suther's Marsh fire was controlled in about 2 hours, but the South Carver fire continued to gain much headway and grew much larger. It moved east toward Charge Pond Road and Camp Cachalot at Five Mile Pond and Little Long Pond. The fire then jumped the Agawam River and burned on to White Island Pond. The Plymouth Fire Chief Arthur Lamb chose to take a stand at White Island Pond to block the north end of the fire and at Shangi-La Shores near Glen Charlie Road to the south. When all was said and done, over 1,000 firemen from Plymouth and Barnstable Counties battled the fires in gusty 30 mile per hour winds and tinder dry conditions. The fire burned 5,500 acres and destroyed approximately 30 cottages.
SANDWICH FIRE - 1965
It was 75 degrees on May 1, 1965. Winds were gusting to 35 mph from the southwest. At 12:54 PM, the Bourne fire tower reported a brush fire near Forestdale Road and Pocasset Road on the military reservation. Within minutes the fire was already growing rapidly and the fire tower reported the fire looks "real bad." Brush breakers from several towns were called in desperation as fire chiefs recognized the extremely dangerous combination of heat, wind, and dry conditions. Twenty minutes later the fire patrol plane advised that the fire had already burned 40 to 50 acres and was moving rapidly towards Sandwich. Even with mutual aid coming from across southeastern Massachusetts, the huge fire burned thousands of acres on its way to jumping the Mid-Cape highway at 2:20 PM and continuing to burn down into Sandwich village before being controlled.
Approximately 2,000 acres burned around the PAVE PAWS radar
installation at the Massachusetts Military Reservation (Otis ANGB) on April 22, 1988. Flames
60'-100' in the air were observed as the fire raged through the
northern end of the base. Mutual aid came from two counties to
fight the fire. The photo was taken from the County Patrol Plane
APRIL 27, 1938
One of the
worst forest fires in the history of Cape Cod was on April 27, 1938
in Sandwich. A fire that started in the National Guard camp at Camp
Edwards grew quickly, eventually burning an area 12 miles long and 5
miles wide into the Shawme Crowell State Forest. Several firemen would become
trapped by the fire and suffered severe burns. Three of them, Thomas
Adams, Ervin Draper, and Gordon King, died from their injuries
making this one of the worst fires in Cape history.
By the People
of Barnstable County
This map is on the wall in the
District 2 headquarters at Myles Standish State Forest.
|Some of the fires
in the Plymouth History:
Some of this information provided by John Hedge, Plymouth FD Captain (Retired) who had researched area news reports about some of the great Plymouth fires.
The Great Fire of 1900
May 8, 1957
May 15, 1971
May 8, 1995
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Cape Cod Brush Breakers