GORHAM — The Gorham Fire Department responded to an early morning fire on the summit of Mount Washington Sunday that destroyed three vehicles.
The Mount Washington Auto Road was holding one of its Sunrise Drives, opening the road at 4 am for those guests who want to drive their vehicles to watch the sunrise from the highest peak in the Northeast.
Gorham Fire Department Chief Phillip Cloutier said the call came in around 5 am and within 12 minutes he said a crew of four and two fire trucks were headed out. Cloutier said it took 30 minutes to drive from Gorham, up the Auto Road, to the summit. Most of that time was spent climbing up the 7.6 mile Auto Road.
“It’s not an easy drive,” said Cloutier, who drove one of the trucks Sunday. In addition to their size, he noted the trucks were carrying full loads of water.
He said the fire started in one of the vehicles and was spread to the other two by the wind, which he estimated at 15 to 20 miles an hour. The parking lot was full of vehicles when the fire broke out. Cloutier said some drivers were able to get their vehicles out and the Auto Road staff pulled some out before the fire could reach them.
The three vehicles were extensively damaged, making it impossible to determine what caused the initial fire. Cloutier said typically it is some mechanical failure. In the case of the Auto Road he said the department is usually called because the brakes have overheated up driving up and down the road. Cloutier said this is the first time the department has been called to the summit.
He said two of the vehicles were Jeeps and their owners were up to use the 4×4 Off-Road Trail at Jericho Mountain State Park. The third vehicle was a Ford Explorer. Cloutier said the vehicle owners were from Connecticut and southern New Hampshire.
The crew cleared the scene in about an hour, emptying the remaining water from their tanks for the ride down. Cloutier said they drove in low gear down the Auto Road to avoid overheating their brakes.
While it is common to see vehicles displaying the popular “This car climbed Mt. Washington” bumper stickers, the Auto Road may now have to design a new one, stating “This fire truck climbed Mt. Washington”.
The Gorham Fire Department provides fire protection and suppression services to seven unincorporated places including Sargent’s Purchase, which contains the summit of Mount Washington, under a contract with Coos County.
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