No reprieve – 2 multi-alarm brush fires in 2 days

NORTHFIELD – For the second day in a row, area fire crews battled a multi-alarm brush fire – this time on Reservoir Road.

Crews were called there at noon for a fire that Tilton-Northfield Fire Chief Mike Sitar said was burning about 1,000 yards up a hill.

Firefighters from 14 communities were accessing the blaze using special forest fire hose and all-terrain vehicles brought from different parts of the state.

Meanwhile, crews were still monitoring a five-alarm brush fire off Route 140 in Northfield and Belmont that burned 80 acres on Wednesday, threatening a community in Garden Grove.

According to dispatches over the Lakes Region Mutual Fire Aid radio, at 4:30 p.m. yesterday an area near Garden Grove flamed up and crews were ordered to lay in a fixed supply of water.

Belmont Fire Chief Dave Parenti was monitoring his department and the scene of Wednesday's fire from a LRMFA trailer while Sitar commanded the scene at Reservoir Road.

Parenti said one of the challenges faced throughout the state was primarily heat, sun, rough terrain and exhausted fire crews.

He also said the wild fires were not the only things happening. While he spoke, he received a call that a older Belmont woman was having serious chest pains and an ambulance crew from Woodstock that was covering his station was ordered to respond.

Crews from New London spent Wednesday night watching the Route 140 scene so local firefighters could get some rest.

"It's ironic that we had such a hard winter and now we're having such a hard spring," said Laconia Fire Chief Ken Erickson.

He said in general, the area hasn't seen many significant brush fires for about four or five years, meaning there is a lot of fuel from fallen branches, overgrown undergrowth and some slash left over from logging operations.

With no rain expected until Sunday, Erickson said the risk of fires will be even greater in the next few days.

Laconia has crews scattered throughout the area fighting active fires and he said for most of the past two days, the department has been on emergency call-back status, meaning off duty and call firefighter crews are helping to man the station.

He said that all burn permits have been revoked and he cautioned people throughout the area not to burn camp fires and to be especially careful about disposing of cigarette materials.

Like Parenti, he said fighting the brush fires is not the only thing happening for emergency response teams. Since the city responds on average to seven to 10 medical calls daily, he said even though there hasn't been a significant brush fire in the city since Mile Hill a few days ago, city firefighters are equally exhausted.

Erickson said his greatest fear was a building fire some where in the city that could easily spread because of dry conditions everywhere. "The sun and the heat is the same for brush and trees as it is for wooden buildings," he said.

At 5 p.m. Tilton-Northfield and Franklin firefighters experienced Erickson's fear when they were called to a second-alarm building fire at Wyman Gordon on Granite Street in Northfield.

Meanwhile, said Erickson, a large brush fire in Ossipee continues to burn and he noted that as of 2:30 p.m. yesterday it had yet to be contained.

Police seek armed Laconia man

LACONIA – Police are searching for a local man who allegedly went to an apartment at 40 McGrath St. at 2:30 a.m. yesterday and threatened the occupants with a gun.

Police said Chad O'Connor, 24, whose last known address was 58 Girard St. allegedly knocked on the door but the residents didn't let him in. He was seen waving around a gun and wearing some kind of a mask.

Responding officers were unable to locate O'Connor.

Police said O'Connor can usually be seen riding a bicycle in the Fair and Bay streets area of Laconia but could be anywhere.

Police said O'Connor is wanted on two warrants plus a warrant for criminal threatening from his allegedly actions yesterday morning.

On Oct. 12, 2014, O'Connor led police on a foot chase that ended up with him jumping into the Winnipesaukee River to evade them. At the time, he was wanted on a warrant for three counts of simple assault from Laconia, an outstanding warrant for resisting arrest from Belmont, and an outstanding warrant for criminal trespass from Gilmanton.

In 2010, O'Connor was charged with felony second-degree assault. He pleaded guilty to a Class A misdemeanor in the Belknap County Superior Court and was sentenced to 12 months in the Belknap County House of Corrections with all but three months suspended.

According to NH1 news, O'Connor allegedly slapped a woman four days ago and fled. Police followed him to the shores of Lake Opechee and the fire department readied for a possible search, but he could not be located.

Police said yesterday that O'Connor should be considered armed and dangerous. Police asked that anyone who sees him should not approach him but instead should call the Laconia Police at 524-5252 or 524-1717 or your local police department.

Parents win; Gilford High reinstitutes grade weighting

GILFORD — The School Board has voted to re-institute grade weighting for Honors and Advanced Placement classes at the High School.

The 5-to-2 vote at Monday's nights board meeting, also made grade-weighting retroactive, meaning that the students who are in ninth grade this year, which doesn't have grade weighting, will have their grade point averages adjusted accordingly.

"I was on the fence," said Chair Karen Thurston, according to draft minutes of the meeting made available yesterday. "I think eventually, whether we like it or not, we are going to have to change this."

Last year, the board eliminated grade-weighting after a presentation by Principal Peter Sawyer in which he said that weighted grades are not factors when it comes to college acceptance because most colleges strip out the weights and apply their own standards.

Sawyer's research showed that the students who were in the top 10 and in the top 10-percent of their class were almost always the same students and not weighting grades would not significantly affect class rankings.

However, some of the parents pushed back and said that without weighted grades for more rigorous classes, many students would be inclined to take the easier class if they are going to earn the same grade-point value.

Parents also said that it takes away some of the leverage they have over their children to get them to take the more difficult class and challenge themselves.

About 35 of them came to a School Board meeting in early April and then attended a specially held Policy Committee meeting where they overwhelmingly supported re-instituting the weighted grade system.

According to the minutes, the vote was taken after considerable discussion.

Member Jack Landow, who is on the Policy Committee, said he felt the decision should be made based on facts and not emotion. He noted that while the letters and comments he received were "courteous, logical, coherent and persuasive," he felt those qualities didn't necessarily made the arguments for grade-weighting valid.

He noted the only facts he had heard were from Sawyer and from Gilmanton member Frank Weeks, whose brother is on an admission team at the University of Pennsylvania, both of whom did not support grade-weighting.

Weeks echoed Landow and said he never thought he should give a bonus to his children when they were doing well.

The other members felt that grade weighting, while not the end-all-and-be-all of college acceptance, still motivates students to try to push themselves a little harder than they otherwise would.

Thurston, Vice-Chair Rae Mello-Andrews, Chris McDonough and Sue Allen all said it seemed to be the will of the parents who made their voices heard. They said they felt that adding a carrot would encourage students to be more aggressive in their studies.

"The way I'm going to vote is for the people who voted for me to represent them on the School Board," McDonough said. He is the other member of the Policy Committee.

Gilmanton member Adam Mini said he saw and understood both sides of the issue — both as a parent and a former student. He noted that when he was in high school, he could have used some incentive to take harder classes.

Mini also noted that conversely, while competition is healthy and an important motivator, he didn't want to see competition over class rankings become destructive.

The new policy also mandates that school guidance counselors from the eighth grade forward work with students and parents to see that students are taking the most appropriate classes for their skill levels.