Forest official says humans, not a meteorite, caused the Dilly Cliffs fire

  • A wildfire burns on Dilly Cliffs near Woodstock on Oct. 3. Courtesy of The Notch Hostel

Monitor staff
Thursday, December 07, 2017

The Dilly Cliffs fire, which burned more than 70 acres and ended tourist season early for Lost River Gorge, was caused by a person – not, as a few speculated, a meteorite, officials said.

“We have determined it was human caused. Beyond that, the exact ignition source has not been identified,” wrote Tiffany Benna, public services staff officer for the White Mountain National Forest.

The blaze in the town of North Woodstock was first reported in early October and lingered for more than a month, closing a portion of the Appalachian Trail and forcing the popular Lost River Gorge to close its boardwalks and caves to make room for firefighting equipment.

When the blaze first erupted, the local fire chief told media that somebody had reported seeing something falling from the sky, leading to speculation that a meteorite may have landed and ignited the dry underbrush.

However, such an event is so unlikely as to be all but impossible since the rocks – called meteors when they’re in the air, but meteorites when they hit the ground – are not very hot when they hit the earth, despite depictions in movies.

Meteors are traveling thousands of miles an hour when they enter the atmosphere, which is why they usually burn up while still hundreds of miles above our heads, but if they survive the trip all the way to the ground, they will have been slowed to what is known as terminal velocity, just a few hundred miles an hour, and will have cooled off.

Although it drew the most attention, the Dilly Cliffs fire was one of many wildfires that broke out in the Northeast after a hot, dry summer and fall.

Gov. Chris Sununu and Vermont Gov. Phil Scott have signed a joint letter to House and Senate leadership asking to increase funding for fighting and preventing forest fires.

“This is far from just a ‘Western’ issue,” the governors wrote.

(David Brooks can be reached at 369-3313 or dbrooks@cmonitor.com or on Twitter @GraniteGeek.)