Drought and Wildfire

Climate Change - Drought and WildfireClimate change is bringing more periods of drought, i.e. extended periods of deficient water supply, punctuated by heavy rainstorms. This will increase the risk of wildfires, especially in the spring, before trees have leafed out. Wildfire could strike quickly with potential for great loss of life and property.

On Martha’s Vineyard, between 1867 and 1929, there were 16 fires greater than 1,000 acres, the largest burning 12,000 acres from West Tisbury to Farm Neck, Ocean Heights, and Edgartown in 1916. Since then, fires have generally been smaller. The last big fire was in 1965, burning 1,200 acres from Great Plains to Katama. In 1957, a fire burned 18,000 acres from Carver to Plymouth, burning all the way to the sea; 12,500 acres, more than twice the area of Martha’s Vineyard’s State Forest, burned in 6 hours.

The Vineyard probably has more people and buildings at risk from wildfire than at any time in our history because of several factors:
  • The regeneration of the forest in land that was largely open pasture in the 18th and 19th centuries,
  • The large population growth and amount of construction of almost exclusively wooden buildings since the 1950s,
  • Fire suppression efforts over the past century, leading to the buildup of fuel,
  • The presence of hundreds of acres of dead trees from a caterpillar infestation in 2004 to 2007 as well trees that died throughout the Island from other causes.
  • The increased risk of drought due to climate change.

The Drought and Wildfire Hazards Assessment and Mitigation includes vulnerability assessments by town, including maps of the areas at greatest risk as well as tables of vulnerable persons and property, both for existing and potential future buildings. The greatest risk is areas where there are houses in heavily wooded areas, or northeast of them where fire could be carried by prevailing winds (e.g. neighborhoods northeast of the State Forest).

A number of possible strategies are included in the Hazard Mitigation Plan for Dukes County:
  • Reducing the fuel load by removing some trees, especially deadwood, through lumbering or with controlled burning. Several prescribed burns were carried out in the State Forest in recent years.
  • Requiring or promoting greater use of fireproof construction, such as fire-resistant asphalt roof shingles.
  • Installing extensive water supply lines, a costly long-term effort.


Office location:

Office location:

The Stone Building
33 New York Avenue
Oak Bluffs, MA 02557

Telephone: 508-693-3453
Fax: 508-693-7894

Mailing Address

Mailing address:

Martha's Vineyard Commission
P.O. Box 1447
Oak Bluffs, MA 02557

Site Map


© 2008 - 2024
Martha's Vineyard Commission
All Rights Reserved