The Maine Forest Service said Friday that Maine has had a 170 percent increase in wildfires so far this year over 2019, resulting in the highest fire count in 10 years.
Calling it “an unprecedented number,” forest rangers said they have responded to nearly 800 fires, representing close to 900 acres, throughout Maine so far in 2020. In late June, the forest service said it had responded to more than 660 forest fires statewide, while in late May the number was 500.
The fires have occurred as a relative lack of rainfall has created moderate drought conditions in most of Maine, with the exception western, inland part of the state and severe drought conditions in northern Aroostook County, according to the National Weather Service. This July is expected to be among the 10 hottest Julys on record for northern Maine, which already include those months from 2018 and 2019, weather service meteorologists have said.
The state agency released the figures on Friday as it said it is looking for witnesses to a wildfire that burned 45 acres and destroyed a cabin and other structures in Baxter State Park in May.
Lightning has been ruled out as a cause of the fire, which started near the Appalachian Trail on the West Branch of the Penobscot River, the forest service said. A log cabin, two outbuildings and a newly constructed trail bridge over Katahdin Stream were destroyed by the blaze, according to the forest service.
Investigators are asking anyone who may have been hiking or fishing near the May 21 fire, or anyone with helpful information, to contact District Forest Ranger Jon Blackstone at firstname.lastname@example.org or 207-695-3721.
“This fire was fast-moving and dangerous because of the dry weather and steep terrain,” Blackstone said Friday. “Our crew and the crew from Baxter State Park worked well together and stopped this fire from spreading into remote terrain.”
The total estimated cost to suppress the fire, which involved forest rangers and park personnel using portable fire pumps and multiple Forest Service aircraft, is more than $33,000.
Another forest fire in May burned 236 acres on May Mountain in the Aroostook County town of Island Falls. A 28 year-old man has been charged with starting that fire by failing to properly dispose of burning material, but law enforcement officials have not released the man’s name.
The cost of extinguishing the Island Falls forest fire exceeded $100,000, according to the forest service.