Record heat, fire danger warnings buffet parts of New England hit by floods just days ago

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Fire danger threatens where Northeast floods hit

BOSTON — Officials in southern New England have issued fire danger warnings for some of the areas put underwater by record flooding just days ago.

The temperature Wednesday hit 92 degrees in Providence, R.I., and Hartford, Conn., on Wednesday, setting records for the day in both cities, the National Weather Service said. The temperature hit a record 90 at Boston’s Logan International Airport.

Providence last month also set a record for rainfall in a month, and Boston had its second-rainiest month on record.

The weather service on Wednesday issued a red flag warning, meaning an enhanced danger of brush fires, for much of southern New England.

Meteorologist Walter Drag, from the National Weather Service office in Taunton, Mass., explained that the reason for the fire danger just a week after all the heavy rain is that the rain fell mostly on dead brush, which dries out quickly. Leaves and new grass, which have not yet sprouted, hold moisture longer and lessen the fire danger. The low humidity and strong gusty winds also contributed to the fire danger Wednesday, Drag said.

“What seems to be an irony, we just had record rains a week ago, now we’re hot and dry, or at least the fine fuels are hot and dry and can easily burn,” Drag said.

The danger was expected to abate Thursday, with temperatures cooling and humidity rising.

The record temperatures in the region encouraged hundreds of Massachusetts residents and visitors to shed as much clothing as possible and sunbathe in public parks, on the banks of the Charles River and even in front of the gold-domed State House. Others took time off from work to go to the beach, keen to take advantage of summer-like weather in early spring.

The unseasonably warm weather hit the region as federal and Massachusetts emergency management officials visited areas hardest hit by the floods to assess damage to public infrastructure to back up the state’s application for relief for those communities. Officials have already visited homes and businesses affected by floods, setting the groundwork for them to apply for aid.

Wednesday’s record heat in Providence broke the previous April 7 mark of 86 degrees, set in 1991. The heat figures to create unpleasant odors as the state continues its recovery from massive flooding that overwhelmed sewage treatment systems and fouled up rivers and streams.

The flooding compelled President Barack Obama to issue an emergency declaration for Rhode Island, ordering federal aid and authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency to coordinate efforts. Gov. Don Carcieri said it was the state’s worst flooding in 200 years.

National Guard troops were deployed in Rhode Island, Massachusetts and Connecticut. Life came nearly to a standstill in many parts of Rhode Island. Nonessential state workers were told to stay home, and state officials asked schools and businesses to consider closing.

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