Rangers battle stubborn wildfire on Big Spencer Mountain

Maine Forest Rangers and other emergency workers battle a wildfire covering about two acres on top of Big Spencer Mountain in Piscataquis County on Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012.
Maine Forest Rangers
Maine Forest Rangers and other emergency workers battle a wildfire covering about two acres on top of Big Spencer Mountain in Piscataquis County on Sunday, Aug. 5, 2012.
By Andrew Neff, BDN Staff
Posted Aug. 05, 2012, at 2:51 p.m.

GREENVILLE, Maine — Maine Forest Rangers and other emergency workers are battling a wildfire covering covering a little more than an acre on top of Big Spencer Mountain in Piscataquis County.

The cause of the fire is unknown, but Maine Forest Service Lt. Jeff Currier said it is “highly problematic” due to its remote location, dry conditions, lack of nearby water, and winds.

“It’s burning from the top down and it’s deep into the ground,” said Currier. “It’s not huge by wildfire standards, but it’s very tough to get to and put out, and will probably take several days to put out.”

Forest Ranger Jon Blackstone, who is helping coordinate the firefighting effort, said high winds forced rangers to abandon a plan to land two rangers and about 10 Maine Forest Service volunteer firefighters on the mountain via helicopter Sunday to fight the fire on the ground.

Instead, rangers have been dumping water from nearby lakes onto the fire via helicopters carrying 240-gallon “Bambi Buckets.”

“We think we can put 10 to 12 firefighters and two rangers on the mountain and set up a 1,200 gallon tank there that be can refilled by helicopter,” Blackstone said.

The fire is also threatening to knock out two important communication repeater facilities in the area that are crucial for maintaining communication for game wardens, sheriff’s department officers and forest rangers.

“Losing those would really hurt us,” Blackstone said. “The problem we’re having today [Sunday] is the wind. The access to this mountain is extremely difficult, but almost impossible when the wind is as high and swirling as it can get.”

Big Spencer Mountain is located about 22.5 miles north and slightly east of Greenville and about four miles south of Lobster Lake.

No injuries have been reported.

Blackstone said the terrain makes firefighting particularly difficult on Big Spencer Mountain.

“The vegetation is 8- to 10-foot-high black spruce which is as much as 100 years old, and deep, deep moss in the rocks that makes it extremely difficult to put out,” he said. “It’s going to take a lot of diffing and a lot of water to get this out.”

Blackstone said the fire began around noon on Saturday. He said a construction crew has been on-site building a communications site that will be used to extend digital communication for border patrol agents as well as other federal and state agency officers.

Blackstone said it’s likely either lightning or a spark, or something else related to the construction work, that caused the fire, but the cause hasn’t been determined yet.

“The construction crew left on their own this morning before the fire got worse,” said Blackstone.

That turned out to be a good decision as the fire scorched much of the construction area and burned up about 200 gallons of diesel fuel Sunday.

Besides the communications concerns, Blackstone said the other big issue is public cooperation, specifically pilots flying too close to the mountain to get a better look at the fire.

“It’s pretty thick, white smoke at times,” he said. “And some aircraft are flying nearby, but we have helicopters going in and out through there and through that smoke, making them hard to see.

“So we’re asking people to avoid the area and keep the flight area clear.”

http://bangordailynews.com/2012/08/05/news/piscataquis/wardens-battling-stubborn-wildfire-on-big-spencer-mountain/ printed on October 25, 2014