BANGOR, Maine — Lobstermen near Criehaven called 911 Tuesday to report a fire on the remote island and the Maine Army National Guard’s 126th Aviation Medevac unit was called into action to transport equipment and Maine Forest Service personnel to the location.
The fire call was actually a training session for seven state and federal agencies involved — but the 400-gallon mobile water trailer that was airlifted to the 300-acre island, located just south of Matinicus in outer Penobscot Bay, will remain to be used for any actual fires that break out in the future.
Jeff Jones, a lobsterman who has lived on the island most of his life, said in a National Guard press release sent out Thursday that the island has no actual roads, just paths for four-wheelers and utility vehicles, and it has no police presence or firefighting capabilities. He and others requested firefighting equipment after the last fire.
“The last two fires we had, we put out with bucket brigades,” Jones said. “That’s guys running up with buckets of water trying to put out the fire.”
Jones said after the last fire, he renewed his request for firefighting equipment, and he was pleased that the Bangor-based 126th arrived with the mobile water tank.
“With this tank, we will have a water source that anyone on the island can come up, turn a valve, and we will be in business,” Jones said. “It will be good for this side of the island. We don’t even have a well here, [and] we had nothing to fight a fire with, nothing.”
Criehaven, also known as Ragged Island, is an unorganized township, so it falls under Knox County for certain services, including firefighting. There are 45 seasonal residents, and a few who tough it out year-round, according to Ray Sisk, Knox County Emergency Management Agency director.
“Exercises like this give our agencies opportunities to work together to meet challenges of response to a remote location,” he said. “All exercise objectives were met, and we had no major surprises which could not be adequately addressed. This will be a great asset to the people of Criehaven.”
Maj. Nathan Arnold, commander of the 126th, said the Black Hawk helicopter crews got hands-on training about moving heavy equipment, overwater operations, and interacting with state and local agencies. It’s been a busy season. His medical evacuation crew was called to Mount Katahdin on June 12 to rescue a 22-year-old man suffering from hypothermia, bleeding and neurological issues and on June 22 to help rescue an injured man who fell 20 feet while hiking Maine’s largest mountain.
The 126th, Forest Service, Knox County Sheriff’s Office, Knox Regional Communications Center, Maine Emergency Management Agency and county emergency management agencies in Knox, Waldo and Hancock participated in the training.
Jones said almost everyone on the island came out to see the two Black Hawk helicopters that flew in the Forest Service crews and the water tank.
“You can’t move to an island to be alone,” the life-long islander said. “Regardless of what you think, everyone on an island is dependent on everyone else. We work as a team, just like all the agencies that came together to provide this support to us.”