MDI fires level shed, encroach on millionaire’s home

Posted April 20, 2009, at 8:07 p.m.
Last modified Jan. 30, 2011, at 12:10 p.m.

BAR HARBOR, Maine — A fire that burned a storage shed to the ground and another that threatened the home of a Forbes-ranked millionaire were among several in Hancock County on Monday that spread or ignited with the help of dry conditions, according to fire safety officials.

The fire in Bar Harbor was reported around 2 p.m. at a private property off Knox Road. The shed that burned was located near a property line shared by Downeast Horizons on Route 3.

According to Ranger Paul Perry of the Maine Forest Service, investigators are not sure how the fire started. He said the homeowner, Robert Bothen, is being summoned on a charge of burning without a permit because Bothen had a burn barrel in his backyard near the shed that he had used recently. Whether embers from the barrel may have started the fire that leveled the shed is unknown, Perry said.

Bothen said the shed contained all of his gear, including a collection of music albums. A motorcycle and truck parked outside the shed were extensively damaged.

Though the fire is believed to have started with the shed, Perry went to the scene because the fire spread into nearby trees before firefighters were able to get it under control. Firefighters from Trenton and Mount Desert assisted Bar Harbor firefighters and had the fire under control less than an hour after it was reported.

Bar Harbor Fire Chief David Rand said dry conditions have prompted him to stop issuing burn permits. If the wind had been blowing in a different direction, he said, the fire easily could have spread to Bothen’s manufactured home only a few feet away.

“I stopped issuing permits on Friday,” Rand said.

In Mount Desert, a brush fire was reported around 12:45 p.m. on Peabody Drive, the main road that connects the villages of Northeast Harbor and Seal Harbor. The fire threatened a large pile of wood chips at a construction site at 137 Peabody Drive, according to Mount Desert Fire Chief Mike Bender.

“It’s awfully dry,” Bender said. “It’s hard to believe with all the snow we had this winter.”

Under construction at 137 Peabody Drive is the multimillion-dollar seasonal home of Mitchell P. Rales of Washington, D.C. Last year Forbes magazine ranked him the 118th richest person in the U.S. Rales bought the property from the estate of Susan Mary Alsop in 2007.

“It was right next to it,” Bender said of how close the fire was to the construction site. He said the fire burned about a quarter-acre before it was extinguished. Eight local firefighters were at the scene of the brush fire for about an hour and finished up just as they were called out for mutual aid to the shed fire in Bar Harbor, he said.

Firefighters were called out Monday to grass fires in Brooklin, Deer Isle, Sedgwick and the Washington County town of Jonesboro, among others.

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