Firefighters fight brush fire and angry rattlesnakes

HARTFORD, Conn. – Firefighters are fighting a brush fire near the Appalachian Trail in western Connecticut were dealing with another threat this week — rattlesnakes.

Authorities say that the flame burned about 200 acres of rugged terrain in an area known as the Schaghticoke Mountain in Kent, between Wednesday and Friday afternoon, when it was brought under control.

Kent Volunteer Fire department Chief Alan Gawel, the incident commander, said the fire disturbed dens of the timber rattlers, and more than a dozen snakes were spotted fleeing the heat, including one that slipped between the legs of a firefighter on Thursday.

“If you try to create a fire line in the rocks, the tree, there’s a snake,” he said. “It is a real struggle, not to mention what it does to your nerves.”

Several dozen firefighters from 17 departments helped fight the fire, and no one had bitten. But the authorities have alerted hospitals to ensure that they have a supply of anti-venom.

Because this was a desert, fire, firefighters were not wearing the typical heavy turnout gear and had no protection from the serpent strikes, Gawel said.

Dennis Schain, a spokesman for the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said that while there is a large population of the snakes in the area, they usually steer clear of people and represent a danger if stepped on or made to feel threatened.

“They are in these pockets of Connecticut for a long time, and almost nobody sees them,” he said.

He said that after the fire is out, state wildlife experts go in search of the rescue of the injured snakes, which would be brought to the Zoo Roger Williams in Rhode Island to be rehabilitated.

Schain said the fire should not pose a permanent threat to the snake population in the area. Connecticut is home to only two venomous species of snakes, the timber rattlesnake and the copperhead.

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