June 21, 2018
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Rash of Down East wildfires deliberate

By Sharon Kiley Mack, BDN Staff

JONESBORO, Maine — The Maine Forest Service has stepped up its presence in Washington County this week after a series of wildfires and grass fires were deliberately set over the past month.

More than 30 such fires have been reported, according to Ranger Courtney Hammond, most in the area of Robbinston, Perry, Pembroke, Charlotte and Pleasant Point.

Although several of the early fires were the normal spring grass fires that pop up each year, Hammond said the frequency of the fires triggered a closer investigation.

Although he would not reveal exactly how the fires were started, he said the human element is the cause.

“We believe multiple people are involved,” he said. “This is based on more than one point of origin for the fires and the way that they were started.”

Hammond said most of the fires have been relatively small, less than a half-acre, but several have burned more than 2 acres. This included two fires in the past week at Johnson’s Christmas Tree Plantation in Robbinston.

Most of the fires have been set in grass and fields, but several burned forestland.

“We do have some juvenile suspects that have admitted to setting some of the fires at Pleasant Point,” Hammond said. The suspects are of high school age, he said, and have not been charged yet.

“Whether those are related to the others or not, we are not sure,” he said. “But the mode of setting the fires was different.”

Although recent arsons that have claimed homes in the Pembroke area are not believed to be related, Hammond said, the forest service is coordinating its investigation with the State Fire Marshal’s Office, the Maine State Police and local officials.

“The governor has been briefed about the situation and knows that we are sending rangers from across the state Down East and will be highly visible in the area,” he said.

“We have had our aircraft and the Civil Air Patrol flights out there, and we have been going door to door, canvassing residents in that area, seeking information,” Hammond said.

“We’ve had a few days’ break because of the cloudy, cool weather,” Hammond said. “But we expect more of the same [criminal behavior] when the weather clears midweek.”

A small spate of suspicious grass fires also occurred recently in Hancock County, according to county dispatcher Jason McFarland.

“We had about one a night in the Orland and Bucksport area for about a week,” he said Monday afternoon.

The fires stopped after a while, and aside from those fires, the spring grass fire season has been pretty much normal in Hancock County, McFarland said.

“Probably we’ve had less than six,” he said.

Penobscot County has had a normal spring for grass fires, even though it started a bit early, according to a dispatcher for the county.

In Piscataquis County, a dispatcher indicated there have been fewer fires than usual so far. He said area fire departments have held some controlled burn exercises and even had difficulty getting the fires started.

Hammond said anyone with information about the fires in Washington County may call the Old Town forest service office at 800-987-0257 or 827-1800.

“There is a small reward available for information that leads to a conviction,” he said.

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