April 29, 2002 – A Navy helicopter, about 20 firefighters and a private-citizen brigade of two were working Sunday afternoon to put out a fire on Hassel Island believed to have been started by Carnival fireworks Saturday night. (See "Fireworks show to be the biggest ever".)
Deputy Fire Chief Boyd Brown said firefighters thought the blaze had been extinguished Saturday night, only to discover it rekindled Sunday morning. "We've had 19 or 20 firefighters over there since about 9 a.m.," he said. "We've been pumping water from the sea and running it up with hoses."
Donald C. Charles Sr., Fire Services special assistant for public information, said Sunday evening that the cause of the blaze was under investigation.
A Frenchtown resident who didn't wish to be named said he had been watching the fireworks Saturday night from St. Anne's Chapel on a hill in Frenchtown. He said a lot of debris was blowing over toward the island, and he thought it possible the fire could have started from a flare.
The blaze was burning on the northern end of the island, facing Frenchtown, on a hill above the old Creque Marine Railway. It marks the second time in recent years that Carnival fireworks have sparked a brush fire on the island — if, indeed, that is the cause of this weekend's fire.
Randolph Knight, prime sponsor of the Carnival finale fireworks for 17 years, was on Hassel Island from early Sunday morning, "machete in hand." Asked if other volunteers were working with him, Knight replied, "Yes, a two-man brigade — Sebastiano Paiewonsky and me."
Paiewonsky owns property along the shore on the eastern side of the island.
"It is under control now," Knight said about 5:40 p.m. Sunday, "and the helicopter is just here."
The helicopter uses a bucket to dip water from the sea and release it on the fire.
Brown said there are specially equipped C-130 firefighting airplanes, but "this fire isn't of that magnitude, and we are not privy to that."
About 6:30 p.m. Sunday, Brown said his men were loading a trailer pump onto a barge on St. Thomas to take it over to Hassel Island for the "last portion of our operation." He said the pump is a heavy-duty piece of equipment that can pump 5,000 to 6,000 gallons of water per minute."Hopefully, we can shut down operations in about an hour," he said.
Earlier in the day, the firefighters had been using the smaller flotation hand pumps.
Brown said a fire truck has been ordered for Water Island, but the sparsely populated Hassel Island, most of which is Virgin Islands National Park property, will continue to be dependent on St. Thomas for protection. "The governor has earmarked lots of money for fire trucks," Brown said. The trucks are expensive and have to be built specifically for different terrains, he said. He added that he hopes "we see them in the near future."
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