Forest fire threatened four N.H. towns 65 years ago

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KEENE, N.H. (AP) – Sixty-five years ago this week, a forest fire threatened four towns in New Hampshire’s Monadnock Region.

The 1941 fire burned 24,000 acres in Gilsum, Marlow, Stoddard and Washington.

Historian Charlie Strickland of Marlow was there. As a 15-year-old, he thumbed a ride toward the rising smoke and almost was swallowed by fire zipping across the road.

By the second day, the fire was encroaching on the center of Marlow, and about 3,000 people were trapped because Routes 10 and 123 were blocked by the fire, Strickland said.

“Everybody in the village was loading stuff in their car, but they couldn’t go anywhere,” he said. “Some people were thinking about driving things into the pond.”

Strickland said firefighters saved the town by parking a ring of fire trucks around it and pumping water right out of the Ashuelot River onto the approaching flames. After four days, the flames died down, with the help of some snow that fell on May 1.

Strickland and historian Tracy Messer of Peterborough have produced a documentary on the fire. It was being shown Monday night at the Historical Society of Cheshire County in Keene.

Strickland, now 80, grew up with an appreciation for firefighting. His father was a firefighter and often took his son on trips with him in the fire truck.

“I’ve seen some scary times, but I’ve respected fire,” Strickland said.

Cornelius Wood, who helped battle the fire, said at one point wind gusts swept the flames across a road and right at him and two others/ They leapt into the river, he said, as the flames howled overhead “like we hear jet noise today.”

“We didn’t know if we were going to make it or not,” said Wood.

Wood, now 84, made his life’s work fighting fires. He was a member of the Winchester Fire Department for about 40 years, and in the state’s fire service for 12.

“It got into my blood,” he said.

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