Extended drought conditions amid an already busy wildfire and outdoor recreation season has state officials on high alert during the final few weeks of summer.
As of Sept. 8, rangers have put out over 910 fires in 2020 — the most Maine has seen in 10 years, according to Jon Blackstone, a district forest ranger with the Maine Forest Service.
That includes 120 blazes started from campfires not properly extinguished. Officials noticed a dramatic increase in first-time recreators this year, likely due to people flocking outdoors because of the coronavirus pandemic, Blackstone said.
Maine has two fire seasons — one in spring, another in late summer and early fall. There’s usually a break in June, a time officials call “green up” because the land gets a break from fires due to a wet spell.
“This year, in June, we didn’t get any green up. We just ran right steady from fire to fire,” Blackstone said. “We’re also finding some challenges at getting water for our engines.”
Firefighters typically scope out boat launches or bridge crossings to suck up water and fill fire engines, said Blackstone. This year, “the brooks and the rivers are so low that we can’t get to [boat launches or bridge crossings], and we have to drive farther to find a place where we can get water.”
While a significant rain event in Northern Maine helped in late August, the task force is closely monitoring several areas, including the St. John and St. Croix basins in Aroostook County — and much of Washington County.