GROTON -- A second fire to ravage privately owned conservation land along the Ayer line prompted selectmen to meet with the Conservation Commission to plan discussions with the Audubon Society on ways to prevent fires.
According to Fire Chief Joseph Bosselait, the latest incident began Oct. 25 and ended Oct. 28. Since then, however, the area remained under watch with fire smoldering 2-3 feet underground.
Bosselait said a cause has still not been determined. Equipment from nearby communities was called in at a cost of nearly $40,000.
The Fire Department encountered the same problems as a blaze that scoured the same area in 2010: the lack of ready access into the forest for firefighting vehicles and the need for water.
Together with a third forest fire that also occurred recently in the same part of town, Board of Selectmen Chairman Peter Cunningham accused the Audubon Society, which owns more than 400 acres of open land between Sandy Pond Road and Indian Hill Road, of not taking enough responsibility for the property.
Cunningham said because the Society restricts access to the property by the public, it loses many chances that a hiker or biker could spot a fire and report it before it has a chance to spread.
Suggesting that a network of fire roads through the property could be part of a solution, Cunningham said that the Society needed to take better care of its land.
Member Stuart Schulman added that the Society might seek to insure the land against fire to save local communities the expense, but that the question was less one of fighting the next fire than preventing fires in the first place.
"At the end of the day, it comes down to stewardship," said Cunningham.
Selectmen agreed to schedule a meeting with the Conservation Commission to discuss next steps and arrange a possible meeting with Audubon representatives to talk about the issue.
Also on Monday, selectmen:
* Voted to ratify the appointment of Takashi Tada as the town's next conservation administrator. Tada, who serves on the Ayer Conservation Commission and acts as part-time town administrator in Shirley, will replace Barbara Ganem and begin work Nov. 18. According to Town Manager Mark Haddad, 40 applications for the position were received before being pared down by a search committee to six "extremely qualified people." Those half-dozen were cut down to two from which the commission chose Tada.
* Heard from Haddad that he had begun the fiscal 2015 budget-formulation process with a meeting between himself and the town's department heads in which they were instructed "take a good look" at their budgets to see where services and operations could be improved. Haddad reminded selectmen that in past years, he had asked departments to submit maintenance budgets that held the line on new spending as well as other times when they were asked to improve services without extra cost. In addition, Haddad told members he planned to give "top priority" to part-time positions and what to do with them. The issue of part-time employees became a topic of importance recently when requests were made for the hours of two such employees to be increased by a single hour triggering the full range of benefits given to employees who worked 20 hours a week or more. The budget for fiscal 2014 was $30,994,975, a 2.68 percent increase over 2013.
* Voted to appoint member Anna Eliot as the board's representative on a Superintendent Screening Committee being formed as part of the Groton-Dunstable Regional School District's upcoming search for a permanent superintendent.