Before there were motorized vehicles, forest fires were able to burn almost unchecked.
Citizens and firefighters would use hand held water extinguishers, rakes, brooms, and other
hand tools to create fire breaks and stop fires. Horse drawn wagons could carry a number of
extinguishers but were slow and unable to go off main roads.
Refilling hand held water extinguishers.
August 1907 photo from Onset bay of a Cape Cod forest fire.
CAPE COD FOREST FIRE HISTORY
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
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.
The brush and forest fire problem on Cape Cod and in the southeastern part of
Massachusetts was severe, particularly in the spring. Thousands of acres of forest
were burned yearly. The 1920's and 1930's saw many major fires which led to the need for
a better way of fighting them. As trucks became available and reliable, the
concept of the brush breaker was born.
A bi-plane can be seen against the plume of smoke at this Cape forest fire.
The plane may have been observing conditions from above.
The 1920's brought attention to the forest fire problem at the state level.
Research into ways to prevent and combat fires, included manned fire patrol trucks,
fire roads, and fire prevention measures.
Pine forests in the spring are explosive fuel.
As fires increase in size, the length of the side (flank) fire increases. A sudden change in wind
speed or direction can turn low burning side fire into a dangerous crowning headfire
Pine trees can explode as a headfire rages through the forest, up hills and across valleys.
Without a way to get to these fires while they are still small, fires would grow to thousands of
acres in a short time. Fires of huge magnitude are not extinguishable... the just run out of
fuel or go out as weather conditions determine.
Fires threaten power lines, homes, barns, and local villages. It was not unusual for fires to burns for days,
from one side of the Cape to the other.
The invention of the brush breaker enabled men to quickly reach fires, either by fire access roads, or by driving
cross country through brush and forested land as necessary to reach and attack fires with water carried on the
brush breaker. Teams of brush breakers working together could quickly surround and extinguish many fires
before the grew large.
Fast moving fires were very dangerous.
One of the Cape's worst fires ever occurred on April 27, 1938 in the Town of Sandwich.
A fire which started in the national guard camp at what would become Otis, burned into
the Shawme Crowell State Forest. The 12 mile long by 5 mile wide fire trapped and burned
several firemen. Three men, Thomas Adams, Ervin Draber, and Gordon King died from burns.
Help came from several counties.
Memorial to Thomas Adams, Ervin A. Draber, and Gordon King.
The memorial is locate on Route 130 in Forestdale.
Smokey Bear for fire prevention.
Preventing Forest Fires - Tailgate of DEM District 7 Patrol truck.
This map is on the wall in the
District 2 headquarters at Myles Standish State Forest.
It shows some of the major fires that have burned in the Plymouth / Carver area.
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
Painting in the Myles Standish headquarters.
CAPE COD BRUSH BREAKERS
More Pages of Brush Breakers
|Page 1 - 1920s - 1930s - First Brush Breaker|
|Page 2 - 1920s - 1930s - Forest Fires / Memorial|
|Page 3 - 1920s - 1930s - Fire Towers / Patrol Plane|
|Page 4 - 1930s - Early Brush Trucks / Breakers|
|Page 5 - 1930s - 1950s - First County Brush Breakers|
|Page 6 - 1940s - 1950 - Early Brush Breakers|
|Page 7 - 1950s - Second Generation Brush Breaker|
|Page 8 - 1950s - Brush Trucks|
|Page 9 - 1950s - 1960s - Second County Brush Breakers|
|Page 10 - 1950s - 1970s - Breakers and Patrol Trucks|
|Page 11 - 1960s - Brush Trucks and Fires|
|Page 12 - 1960s - Fires and Brush Breakers|
|Page 13 - 1960s - 1970s - Third Generation Breaker|
|Page 14 - 1970s - County & Town Brush Breakers|
|Page 15 - 1970s - 1980s - Brush Breakers & Tankers|
|Page 16 - 1980s - Breakers & Fires|
|Page 17 - 1990s - Brush and Forestry Trucks|
|Page 18 - 1990s - Brush and Forestry Trucks|
|Page 19 - 1990s - State Forest Fire Apparatus|
|Page 20 - 1990s - 2000s - Brush Breakers|
|Page 21 - 2000s - Breakers and Tankers|
|Page 22 - 2000s - Brush Breakers & Tankers|
|Page 23 - 2000s - Newest Breakers|
|Page 24 - 2000s - 2005 Brush Season|
|Page 25 - 2000s - 2006 Brush Breakers|
|Page 26 - 2000s - 2007 Brush Breaker Training|
Massachusetts DCR - Bureau of Forest
Forest Fire Lookout Association
History Early Fire Towers
Massachusetts Fire Tower Locations
CCFD.com - Plymouth Brush Breaker Drill April 2006
CCFD.com - Plymouth-Wareham Brush Fires May 2006
CCFD.com - Sandwich Fire Tower 2006
Photos in this series are from various sources
including fire department and personal collections.