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Maine Forest Service, local fire crews busy fighting 15 wildfires

Posted April 20, 2012, at 9:56 p.m.
Last modified April 20, 2012, at 10:25 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Rangers and pilots from the Maine Forest Service and local fire department crews scrambled Friday to deal with 15 wildfires, most of them in communities along the coast and in the southernmost third of Maine.

Lt. Jeff Currier of the Maine Forest Service said most of the wildfires were caught early and contained before they had a chance to get out of control.

The largest fire of the day was in Stetson, where a fire that broke out Friday afternoon burned just under three acres, Currier said. Local firefighters from Stetson and several surrounding towns turned out, as did Ranger Bill Cusick and a forest service helicopter and pilot, he said.

Also Friday, a fire off Burket Mill Road in Waldoboro, near the Warren town line, burned about two more acres before it was contained by area fire crews, with assistance from a forest service helicopter.

Stetson Fire Chief Kim Stacy said the fire began about 1:30 p.m. and that while he was driving to the fire’s location, off Stetson Road, he could tell it was going to be a stubborn one.

Stacy said Friday night that it wasn’t clear how the fire began but that it started in the grass and then got into nearby trees.

The tree trunks created what he called “ladder fuel” that enabled the flames to reach up into the treetops, which was a matter of concern because of Friday’s windy conditions. That prompted him to call upon the forest service for assistance.

Currier said a helicopter equipped with a water bucket was deployed from its central region headquarters and air operations hanger in Old Town.

The pilot flew overhead and made a series of water drops in an effort to stop the fire from spreading any farther than it did.

Wildfires also were reported in Perry and Lincoln.

Dry, windy conditions this week have created prime conditions for wildfires, some of which have claimed outbuildings and sheds and melted the siding on at least one home but otherwise left residential buildings intact, Currier said.

Currier said a forest service dispatcher based in Augusta told him Thursday was one of the busiest work days she had seen in her 25-year career.

Currier said dry ground conditions have enabled fires to burn deep into the ground, which often requires some digging to get at them. Most of the wildfires reported this week were caused by people. In some cases, improperly disposed ash from wood stoves was the cause. Others happened after planned lawn or field burns escaped and burned out of control.

On Friday, the Maine Forest Service rated the wildfire danger levels in its seven-zone classification system as “high” and “very high.”

That, however, is expected to change over the weekend, according to meteorologists from the National Weather Service’s Caribou office.

Forecasts are calling for a chance of scattered showers late Saturday afternoon and rain that night. Sunday and Monday are expected to bring a good soaking, with as much as half an inch of rain predicted on Sunday and as much as an inch expected Monday.

Bangor Daily News reporter Stephen Betts contributed to this report.

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