EXETER, R.I. (WPRI) — Dozens of residents were evacuated Friday afternoon as a large brush fire burned through 700 acres of land in Exeter.
Gov. Dan McKee said the brush fire, which started in the woods around noon near William Reynolds Road, is 80% contained as of 10 p.m. Friday night.
Smoke plumes could be seen for miles as the fire made its way through the woods, engulfing all of the trees and brush in its path.
The fire threatened the safety of dozens of homes between William Reynolds Road and Route 102. Rhode Island State Police troopers door-knocked throughout the neighborhood and evacuated residents out of an abundance of caution. The evacuation order was lifted around 7:30 p.m. once crews were confident that the flames wouldn’t spread any further.
Firefighters traversed the woods on ATVs well into Friday evening, searching for flare-ups and clearing burned brush. McKee estimates that more than 200 firefighters from departments as far as central Connecticut were called in to assist.
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The Rhode Island National Guard’s Black Hawk team circled the fire for hours Friday, continuously filling up a 600-gallon bucket with water from a pond at the nearby Exeter Country Club to douse the flames.
It was the second time this week, and in the Rhode Island National Guard’s history, that the Black Hawk team was called in to drop water onto a fire. Earlier this week, crews spent nearly two days knocking down a brush fire in West Greenwich that burned more than 150 acres.
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West Greenwich Emergency Management Director Brooke Lawrence tells 12 News he expects firefighters to continue containment and cleanup efforts through the weekend. He also said crews still need to finish cleaning up in West Greenwich, since the majority of those who were doing so dropped everything to rush to Exeter.
Firefighters have been busy since late last week responding to numerous brush fires. There is an elevated risk of fires spreading due to dry and windy conditions, which is why everyone is urged to refrain from outdoor burning and use caution when discarding cigarettes.