Officials warn of fire danger

Posted May 30, 2010, at 10:33 p.m.

Weather conditions that might be good for tourism are not optimal for Maine’s woods or for officials concerned with the potential for forest fires.

Campers spending the Memorial Day holiday weekend in Maine might be enjoying the dry weather, but those same conditions prompted the Maine Forest Service and the National Weather Service to issue a red flag warning for all of the state. The warning, issued Sunday morning, was expected to last until 6 p.m. Sunday.

According to Kent Nelson, fire prevention specialist with the Maine Forest Service, the recent lack of rain and the gusty wind conditions have increased the risk of forest fires in Maine.

“The Maine Forest Service urges all citizens to postpone their outdoor burning (including campfires) until we get significant rainfall,” Nelson said in a prepared statement released Sunday.

Similar conditions in Canada have led to an outbreak of forest fires in Quebec, which has resulted in smoke from those fires blowing into northern New England.

The fires near La Tuque, Quebec, are about 350 to 400 miles from the Maine border and are causing hazy conditions in western Maine that could spread eastward, Nelson said Sunday. La Tuque is northwest of Quebec City.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection has issued a limited health notice warning that particle pollution levels in Maine could be moderate on Sunday because of the fires in Quebec. Nelson said people with respiratory problems were being cautioned against doing any heavy exercise outdoors Sunday in Maine.

Recent record-breaking temperatures and lightning storms created more than 60 wildfires in Quebec, according to Nelson, several of which still are considered out of control. The Maine Forest Service has sent six forest rangers and 15 wildland firefighters to Quebec to help combat the fires, he said.

Despite the assistance to Quebec, there still is an adequate number of state fire personnel in Maine, Nelson added.

Mark Bloomer, forecaster with the National Weather Service in Caribou, said Sunday that smoke blowing southeast from Quebec was expected to increase slightly in Sunday’s gusty winds. He said the smoke could cause an orange haze in the sky over Maine.

“You may notice it later today,” he said.

Bloomer said the particulate matter in the air likely would not affect most people.

“If [the smoke] does thicken up more, it may become an air quality issue,” he said.

Bloomer said it is “not out of the question” for scattered fires to break out throughout Maine while the dry conditions persist.

Nelson said Sunday that current dry conditions in Maine coincide with a popular camping holiday.

“Our main concern here is people being careless with campfires,” Nelson said.

According to information on the Maine Forest Service website, five of the seven zones in Maine are at “very high” risk for forest fires. Two zones along the coast are only slightly less so with ratings of “high.”

According to preliminary data compiled by the National Weather Service, roughly 2 inches of rain have fallen in the state so far this month, or about half an inch to an inch and a half less than normal. Precipitation in Maine during April also is considered to have amounted to less than normal, according to the National Weather Service.

There may be some relief in sight. Rain is expected to fall throughout Maine on Monday night and Tuesday, according to National Weather Service forecasts.

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