June 23, 2018
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Feds will have final say on Washington County effort to add hydrant near site of fatal fire

Courtesy of Tom McLaughlin
Courtesy of Tom McLaughlin
Firefighters pour water where a blaze consumed an old house in Cooper on March 29.
By Tim Cox, BDN Staff

MACHIAS, Maine — Washington County officials will seek to have a dry fire hydrant installed at a lake in the area where a fire recently destroyed a home and fatally burned the owner.

However, the federal government will have the final say in the matter.

Washington County Commissioner Chris Gardner, a member of the Dennysville Volunteer Fire Department — one of several fire departments that fought a March 29 blaze at a Cooper home — asked Heron Weston, supervisor of Washington County’s Unorganized Territory, to look into the feasibility of installing a dry hydrant at the public boat launch at Cathance Lake.

When Weston briefed the Washington County Commission — Gardner and fellow Commissioner John Crowley were present — on the issue Thursday, he noted that state officials informed him that federal approval would have to be sought because federal funds were used to acquire and develop the boat launch site.

“I have only just started to explore it,” Weston said Friday.

The county would bear the cost of digging a ditch to run a pipe into the lake, said Weston. The Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife owns and operates the public boat landing at Cathance Lake off Route 191.

The home destroyed in the fatal Cooper fire was about 2 miles north of Cathance Lake. A game warden cut a hole in the ice so firefighters could obtain water at the boat landing, but it was difficult to gain access because the boat landing area was not entirely clear of snow. Firefighters also set up at a brook about 2 miles away that was more open and drew water from there.

Vladimir Drozdoff, 80, who lived alone in the old house, died Monday from severe burns he suffered while trying to extinguish flames.

The land for the boat launch was purchased and developed with the help of grant funds provided by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, noted Leon Bucher, chief planner and federal aid coordinator for the state Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife. The grant funds are intended to be used for providing water access to sport fishermen.

“We have a requirement that the property is held in use for and maintained for access to sport fishermen,” he said Friday.

He is waiting for county officials to submit a written proposal detailing where the dry hydrant would be installed to ensure that it does not interfere with motorists bringing in or leaving the launch area with trailered boats, as well as parking, he said.

“The expectation is that (the proposal) will be accommodated, and then we will move forward,” he said. There would have to be additional room to allow a pumper truck that would use the hydrant, he noted.

Asked how long it would take state officials to review the proposal, Bucher said, “It depends on if it’s an easy decision or not.”

If the state department approves the request, it would be sent to the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service office in Hadley, Mass., said Bucher. An answer from federal officials could be expected in two weeks or less, he indicated.

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