Dry conditions mean more brush fires, and fire departments across the state had their hands full in recent weeks with several such situations. Brush fires happen more frequently when the air is extremely dry and can spread fairly quickly because of breezy conditions. New Canaan Fire Marshal Fred Baker attributed the higher risk of brush fires to the strange weather we have had this past year.

"Since we have not had a particularly wet winter a lot of the leaves and trees are very dry out there," Baker said. "Combine that with the warmer weather we have been having, and any little spark can cause brush fires."

Darien Fire Marshal Robert Buch agrees that any little thing, even a dying cigarette butt can easily start a fire.

"Smoking causes several fires each year. It's still one of the highest causes for fires," Buch told middle school students at the end of March. "Sometimes you'll get a small fire like we had last week when there was a small brush fire on the side of the road due to a discarded cigarette. Other times, you lose entire houses."

A large fire in New Canaan last week destroyed a home on Frogtown Road. The cause is still unknown but fire departments from all the neighboring towns, including Noroton Heights, were on hand hoping to contain the flames and prevent a wildfire because of the extra dry conditions.

In an ongoing effort to combat fires in as many ways possible, New Canaan recently installed its 20th dry hydrant.

The newest was installed on Braeburn Drive and the installation costs were donated by Tim Brown of Brown Thayer Shedd Insurance Agency on Pine Street. It was the second time Brown had donated money for a dry hydrant in town.

"He is very passionate about fire safety," Baker said. "He deserves a lot of the credit for this."

"The reason I did it was because there is not an adequate water supply to fight fires in town, especially outside of the 2-mile radius of downtown," Brown said.

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"I've done a couple of these in the last couple of years, and my intent is to do two more in town if we can identify a reasonable water source and gain the acceptance and access of the homeowner of the water source."

A dry hydrant, Baker explained, is different from a normal hydrant in that it is connected directly to a large water source like a pond, river or lake.

Normal hydrants are connected to water mains underground. A dry hydrant does not deal with water mains, and their pipes remain dry until they are used. Baker said one of the advantages of using a dry hydrant is the department does not have to worry about frozen pipes, which are generally under the jurisdiction of water company Aquarion in New Canaan.

"It really is a simple device. It is just a buried pipe that goes out into a body of water, and the truck hooks up to that and drafts the water out of the body of water," Baker said.

"We are able to put that pipe deep in the pond where we can still get to the water even if the pond is frozen. Something like this is great for remote areas with small bodies of water like a pond because they are not always near a water main."

Baker also said the dry hydrants can save time, which is precious when attempting to save lives and buildings.

"We need every second we can get and the time used getting water from other sources like swimming pools and water mains farther way are costly," Baker said.

Other ways fire departments obtain water is by tapping into cisterns, which are buried tanks. Baker said there are half a dozen cisterns in New Canaan and they usually hold about 10,000 gallons of water each.

"The only downside to a cistern is it is more expensive to install and there is a limited amount of water at the end of the day," Baker said. "It might sound like a lot of water, but when you need all that pressurized power to take down a fire that might spread, you need all the water you can get your hands on."

The new dry hydrant on Braeburn Drive was installed on the property of Kenneth and Gaynor Luke. Baker said they were very supportive of the initiative.

"This installation could help them and their neighbors reduce their annual insurance bills and have peace of mind," Baker said. "So installing a dry hydrant in and around your property can not only help you be safe, but give you some potential financial benefits as well."

Brown, who specializes in insurance, cautioned that while the benefits for fire safety are obvious, the decrease in rates really depends on the homeowner's insurance carrier.

pjha@bcnnew.com; 203-972-4413; http://www.twitter.com/pjhancnews