With significant drought conditions still desiccating the region and the state forest without a full time superintendent, the Martha’s Vineyard Commission has received approximately $25,000 in state and federal money to develop a first-of-its-kind wildfire preparedness plan for the Island.

The commission secured the grant money after members raised concerns about the Manuel F. Correllus state forest earlier this fall. Although there have been no reported large-scale wildfires in the forest this season, brush fires in Oak Bluffs and West Tisbury earlier this year scorched about three acres of land and, in one instance, took at least three full responses to stamp out.

A spokesman from the Department of Conservation & Recreation has said that state is currently assessing the role of forest superintedent as it searches to fill the vacant position. Former superintendent Chris Bruno left the Island earlier this year.

The commission released a request for qualifications on Oct. 16, seeking a contractor to execute the plan. A pre-response information session regarding the application process was held two weeks ago, with November 24 at 5 p.m. set as a deadline for proposals.

The RFQ was done in consultation with DCR fire warden Josh Nigro, and involves seven main goals that include indentifying all wildland fire hazards on the Vineyard, mapping hazardous areas and establishing a more localized guide for ranking high priority properties by fire risk. The RFQ also asks contractors to provide new information on fire mitigation strategies and assess current weak spots in the Island’s fire preparedness planning.

According to Dan Doyle, the special projects planner at the MVC who is spearheading the project, the chosen consultant will also work closely with local stakeholders like the Island fire departments and the commission.

“We want kind of something that allows local leaders and people involved in this realm to really assess properties, where they fall on the gradient of risk and prioritize those properties for potential mitigation actions,” Mr. Doyle told the Gazette by phone Wednesday. The report will likely also show a town-by-town synopsis of fire risk, he said.

The precise methodology of the report has not yet been determined, Mr. Doyle said, but it will likely incorporate geographic information system (GIS) data already in use in the commission’s hazard mitigation plan, as well as data on ground fuel levels, like brush cover, that is only attainable through site visits.

“We have a number of different vegetation, spatial data [sets] that are helpful in kind of a desktop analysis…but there’s a far more sophisticated analysis that’s involved when we bring in the experts and that’s what we’re looking for,” said Mr. Doyle. 

The recent progress on a county-wide fire preparedness plan was set into motion by a grant from the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency. The project also has received funds from the town of Edgartown, as well as support from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Beyond local participation, the commission hopes DCR becomes a player in the project. The state agency oversees the Manuel F. Correllus state forest, whose 5,000 acres of pitch-pine woodland constitute one of the foremost fire-risk areas on the Island.

The commission met two weeks ago with representatives from the DCR, as well as state Rep. Dylan Fernandes and the Martha’s Vineyard Airport director to discuss fire mitigation efforts in the forest and the future of its superintendent position, which has been vacant since March.

The hope is to finalize the contract by the end of November and to complete the report by the end of 2021, Mr. Doyle said. 

“With climate change, there are certain trends which start shifting us into the direction of a more extended drought…more consecutive days without rain, especially in the summertime,” said Mr. Doyle. “Given what happened last summer and how that’s emblematic of a trend, we just want to really have a comprehensive approach so we could take real action to make it safer.”