The state will receive nearly $74,000 in restitution for suppressing the fire that burned two acres of old spruce forest atop Big Spencer Mountain in August, according to a recent press release issued by the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry.
A district court judge in Dover-Foxcroft ordered restitution of $73,972.96 to be paid over five years by Richard Wes Coers of Utah, who pleaded no contest on Monday to a summons of failure to extinguish the fire on the 3,230-foot mountain, which lies about 20 miles north of Greenville. Coers will also pay a $490 fine.
The fire started around noon on Saturday, Aug. 4, when embers from an unpermitted burn pile of leftover construction materials on top of the mountain was blown by a helicopter airlifting a communication building on the site, according to the press release.
At the time, a construction crew was on-site building a communications site that will be used to extend digital communications for border patrol agents as well as other federal and state agency officers.
“The construction crew left on their own this morning before the fire got worse,” said Forest Ranger Jon Blackstone in a BDN story published a day after the fire began.
Maine Forest Service rangers and local volunteers led the firefighting effort by ground and air. From helicopters, 44,880 gallons of water were dropped onto the mountain until the fire was extinguished.
“This was an expensive mistake and the Maine Forest Service should be commended for quickly putting out the fire and bringing this case to a resolution,” said Commissioner Walt Whitcomb of the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, in a prepared statement. “As a reminder, fire permits protect people and our natural resources and are easy to obtain.”
For years, Big Spencer has been a remote hiking destination. After the forest fire, the trail leading to the summit of the mountain was deemed unsafe for hikers and was temporarily closed, barred off at the trail head by caution tape and a makeshift sign. The trail did not reopen to hikers until September.
In September, Maine Forest Service District Manager Bruce Reed asked hikers not to tamper with the construction site or the burnt forest, which may be dangerous to walk in.
For information on obtaining an open burn fire permit, including an online permit application system, visit www.maine.gov/burnpermit or call 800-750-9777. For information on the Maine Forest Service, go to www.maineforestservice.gov.
BDN writer Alex Barber contributed to this report.