HARTFORD - Firefighters battling a brush fire near the Appalachian Trail in western Connecticut were dealing with another threat this week — rattlesnakes.
Authorities said the blaze burned about 200 acres of rugged terrain in an area known as Schaghticoke Mountain in Kent between Wednesday and Friday afternoon, when it was brought under control.
Kent Volunteer Fire 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 slithered between the legs of a firefighter on Thursday.
“As you are trying to create a fire line in the rocks, boom, there's a snake,” he said. “It's a real battle, not to mention what it does to your nerves.”
Several dozen firefighters from 17 departments helped battle the fire, and no one had been bitten. But authorities have alerted hospitals to make sure they have a supply of anti-venom.
Because this was a wilderness fire, firefighters were not wearing typical heavy turnout gear and had no protection from snake strikes, Gawel said.
Dennis Schain, a spokesman for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, said while there is a large population of snakes in the area, they typically steer clear of people and would only pose a danger if stepped on or made to feel threatened.
“They've been in these pockets of Connecticut for a long time, and hardly anybody ever sees them,” he said.
He said once the fire is out, state wildlife experts will go in looking to rescue any injured snakes, which would be brought to the Roger Williams Zoo in Rhode Island to be rehabilitated.
Schain said the fire should not pose any permanent threat to the snake population in the area. Connecticut is home to just two venomous types of snakes, the timber rattlesnake and the northern copperhead.