View Washington County, Maine in a larger map
PRINCETON, Maine — Maine Forest Service officials are investigating seven forest fires that were sparked Sunday in a remote area of Washington County. Forest Service officials reported Monday that they believe the fires were intentionally set.
All the fires, reported within a span of about two hours Sunday afternoon, were attacked quickly by responding firefighters and forest rangers and were kept to less than one acre each, said Jeff Currier, regional forest ranger for the Forest Service. No buildings were threatened and no injuries were reported.
The first fire was reported about 1:30 p.m. off Pokey Road in Princeton, and the next was reported at 1:48 p.m. off Station Road in Charlotte. Subsequent fires were reported at 2 p.m. off Higgins Road in Meddybemps, 2:35 p.m. off Grand Falls Road in Baileyville and, at 2:48 p.m., reports of two fires were called in along U.S. Route 1 in Indian Township. The seventh and final fire was reported at 3:30 p.m. off Grand Lake Stream Road in Princeton.
“As you can see, rangers and multiple fire crews had their hands full a little bit,” said Currier, who termed the fires “very suspicious.”
“We’re calling it arson with a very high degree of confidence,” he said.
Several forest rangers are investigating the fires with the assistance of area firefighters.
Law enforcement agencies have been briefed on the fires, he said, including the state fire marshal, Washington County Sheriff’s Office, state police, and U.S. Customs and Border Patrol.
Authorities are not prepared to discuss what evidence they have recovered, said Currier, but he noted that forest rangers are trained to investigate arson cases.
“We’re asking in a big way for the public’s help,” said Currier. Anyone with information about the fires should call the Forest Service arson hotline at 800-987-0257. The agency offers a reward for information leading to the arrest and conviction of people responsible for arson.
Because a number of fires apparently were set over a fairly large area within a relatively short period of time, more than one person may have been involved, Currier acknowledged.
A couple of the fires had potential for significant growth, said Currier, particularly the one near Grand Lake Stream Road. “Fortunately, we were able to get on that very quickly and knock it down.”
The forest rangers were aided by volunteer firefighters from the Baring, Charlotte, Robbinston, Meddybemps, Baileyville and Indian Township fire departments. The Forest Service also had a helicopter in the area, ready to assist.
Several other cases of arson have occurred in the area earlier this year, noted Currier.
“Whether they’re related, we don’t know.”