May 26, 2020
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Hot, dry weather leads to increased forest fire risk

Eric Zelz | BDN
Eric Zelz | BDN

BANGOR, Maine — More than two weeks of high temperatures, wind gusts and scant rainfall have created prime conditions for forest fires.

As of Thursday, the forest fire danger ranking for most of Maine was listed as Class 3, or high. The exceptions were the western mountains, where the risk was ranked at Class 4, or very high, and the southern section of the coast, where the risk was moderate, according to the Maine Forest Service’s Forest Fire Danger Report.

“We haven’t seen these high fire danger rankings since this spring,” Kent Nelson, fire prevention specialist with the Maine Forest Service’s Forest Protection Division, said Thursday afternoon.

The forest service ranks fire danger on a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 representing low potential for a wildfire and 5 signaling extreme danger.

A high fire danger rating means fires start easily because of highly combustible dead fuels on the forest floor. Unattended fires are likely to escape and spread rapidly, having the potential to become serious unless they are “hit hard and fast while small,” according to a description under the national fire danger rating system.

While the potential for wildfires is not as high as it was in late August of last year, Nelson said, “it seems like we’re heading that way.”

Weather forecasts through the end of this weekend are calling for some rain, but not in the ground-soaking amounts needed to avert the fire risk, he said.

“This is a good time for people to use caution,” Nelson said, adding that 90 percent of wildfires are caused by human activity.

To that end, he recommends that people who are making campfires not leave them unattended and be sure they are fully extinguished before leaving. Those who are using machinery in the woods should be on the alert for sparks.

Nelson also said brush burning should be delayed. Given the danger rankings, he said it is unlikely that burn permits will be issued this week.

“The forest floor is dry but fortunately we haven’t had that many fires and those we’ve had have been relatively small,” he said.

Among the areas affected by wildfires this week was northern Washington County, where a 4-acre fire that began Sunday has been brought under control and now is being monitored. The forest service used a trained crew of inmates to attack the fire, which Nelson said was located in Township 8 Range 3, five or six miles south of Danforth.

Smaller fires occurred in Prentiss Township, Augusta and a small island off Woolwich, he said.

On Thursday afternoon, two new wildfires were reported, one at Moxie Lake and the other at Big Web Pond, Nelson said. He said both appeared to have been started by structure fires at camps and may be spreading into the woods.

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