Red flag warning issued for much of state as firefighters battle western Maine wildfire

Posted April 05, 2012, at 1:02 p.m.
Last modified April 05, 2012, at 6:42 p.m.
Maine Forest Service Forest Ranger Art Lavoie works Thursday at a fire in a mountainous area of Gilead. Four forest rangers were at the scene along with about 24 local firefighters. A Maine Forest Service helicopter was making repeated drops at the fire scene, getting water from the nearby Androscoggin River.
Maine Forest Service photo
Maine Forest Service Forest Ranger Art Lavoie works Thursday at a fire in a mountainous area of Gilead. Four forest rangers were at the scene along with about 24 local firefighters. A Maine Forest Service helicopter was making repeated drops at the fire scene, getting water from the nearby Androscoggin River. Buy Photo

ELLSWORTH, Maine — High winds and low humidity created potentially dangerous fire conditions across nearly half of Maine on Thursday and hampered efforts to fight a tough-to-reach wildfire in the western mountains.

The National Weather Service, in collaboration with the Maine Forest Service, had issued a red flag warning for all of coastal Maine and much of the southern half of the state from noon to 8 p.m. Thursday.

Lt. Jeff Currier with the Maine Forest Service said conditions looked more favorable for Friday but the decision about whether to issue another red flag warning would be made around 7:30 a.m. Friday.

A red flag warning means that the combination of strong winds, warmer temperatures and low humidity likely create “explosive fire growth potential” for the affected areas.

“Under red flag conditions, it is ill advised to do any type of outdoor burning, be it a campfire or a brush fire,” Currier said. He cautioned, however, that even with a locally issued burn permit, individuals who start fires during unsafe conditions can be held liable or prosecuted if the fires get out of control.

On Thursday, firefighters struggled to reach a small but challenging fire in a mountainous area off of Route 2 in Gilead. Local firefighters and forest rangers had to traverse terrain that includes steep ledges on the side of the mountain to reach the 5-acre fire, which began Wednesday.

“It’s not a very big fire by any means but it is very problematic because of where it is located,” Currier said earlier Thursday. “It is very rugged terrain and we have to factor in the risks of putting people in there.”

The fire was fully contained by 5 p.m., although Currier said rangers will continue to monitor it Friday for any flare-ups.

The Forest Service used one of the agency’s helicopters to drop water on the fire while about two dozen firefighters or rangers worked on the ground, according to the Department of Conservation.

The Forest Service reported about a dozen fires in the state on Wednesday, with most of those located in coastal and southern Maine. Currier said relatively few fires were reported Thursday likely due, in part, to the red flag warning.

Maine’s wildfire season has arrived somewhat early this year due to warmer-than-normal temperatures, high winds and the lack of snow cover in many areas.

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