June 24, 2018
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Dry conditions spark ‘several dozen’ fires across Maine

By Christopher Cousins, BDN Staff

BANGOR, Maine — Extremely dry conditions across Maine triggered several dozen fires across Maine over the weekend.

Two of the more troublesome blazes were still burning Sunday afternoon on Lasalle Island off Rockport and in the Unorganized Territory near Medway.

Maine Forest Service Ranger Jeffrey Currier said Sunday that fires were reported all over the southern half of the state, including in Manchester, Winslow, Whitefield, Fairfield as well as some in the Penobscot County area.

“Most of these fires are getting knocked down relatively quickly by the Forest Service and local fire crews,” said Currier. “It’s just been a very busy day. We have rangers going from fire to fire.”

On Lasalle Island, the fire was reported Saturday and burned 3 acres of mature softwood and threatened several structures. Ranger Sgt. Matt Gomes said the rough terrain strewn with combustibles was making the fire challenging to extinguish.

“The fire is problematic because of fuel loading,” he said in a press release distributed Sunday afternoon. “There are a large number of blowdowns in the fire area, creating a significant amount of fuel for the fire to consume. Wildfires like this are extremely labor-intensive.”

A Maine Forest Service helicopter was at the scene Sunday taking firefighters and equipment from the mainland and dropping water onto the fire. An inmate fire crew from Maine State Prison in Warren, which is part of a forest service training program, was helping. The cause of the fire is under investigation.

Currier said late Sunday afternoon that the island fire was under control, but still not fully extinguished.

Maine Forest Service Rangers were also at the scene of a wildfire near Medway that, as of Sunday, had burned 32 acres of grass, brush and timber. Fanned by gusty winds and uninterrupted by low humidity, the fire spread quickly Saturday in an area near Interstate 95 in Medway and Township 1 Range 6. Rangers have determined that the fire was started by some human element, according to Currier.

“We definitely find it suspicious,” he said. “It might be related to some collateral illegal activity with an individual that might have been involved in the theft of some scrap metal.”

The fire danger in the state was rated at “very high” Sunday with no respite expected Monday with the weather forecast calling for more warmer than normal conditions.

A fire danger rating of “very high” is one step from the worst rating of “extreme,” which Currier said usually doesn’t happen except for in the late summer. He said the early spring is usually a busy time for fighting brush fires because dry timber and dead grass left over from winter.

“Over the last couple of years we’ve had some pretty low numbers as far as fire season goes because we’ve been fairly wet,” he said. “It seems like a lot of fires right now but it’s actually more typical than it has been in the past few years. The fickleness of Mother Nature is something you just can’t predict.”

Currier urged anyone planning to light any kind of fire to consult the local fire department and to follow the instructions on any fire permits as closely as possible.

“Failing to do that can be very costly, it can be embarrassing in and some cases, it can be tragic,” he said. “It’s springtime in Maine and Maine is the most forested state in the nation.”

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