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The Maine Forest Service responded to a call of an out of control wildfire in Centerville Twp, just north of Columbia Falls in Washington County. The call was made by the foreman of a blueberry burning crew who stated that an equipment malfunction had caused the fire to escape into the woods. Forest Rangers from the Downeast District responded to the fire, arriving at the scene 15 minutes later. Upon arrival, Ranger Andrew Gacek assessed the fire, and reported to the Regional Headquarters that the blaze was burning in mature softwood, exhibiting intense fire behavior with multiple tree torching and spotting and that the fire was approximately 10 acres in size. He requested that a helicopter be dispatched to the incident and requested more forest rangers be called in to assist.
The fire continued to spread behind very gusty east winds, which are generally uncommon to this area of the state. The weather forecast provided to Rangers by the Regional Headquarters earlier that day called for gusty winds ahead of an approaching storm, which was expected to bring rain to the area. Ranger Gacek transferred command of the incident to District Ranger Jeff Currier upon his arrival and [Gacek] was designated to fill the role of a Division Supervisor. The fire continued to grow rapidly with short crown fire runs through the mature red spruce and balsam fir stands. The
incident commander ordered a second Maine Forest Service helicopter after completing an aerial assessment of the fire perimeter. Ranger Paul Perry was assigned as a Division Supervisor for Division B, which was located on the right or northern flank of the fire. Ranger Gacek supervised Division A, located on the left or southern flank. Each Division supervisor began work with the IC [incident commander] to formulate a plan for containing the fire. Division A elected to employ a dozer/excavator combination to construct a fire line from the blueberry field toward the west. A folding dump tank and Mark 3 pump setup was used to support this dozer line. Division B used a road as a control line, with engine support designed to hold the fire and keep it from spreading to the north. Division B was also given an additional dozer/excavator combination to catch slopover fires that crossed the road. This Division also had several camper trailers which would be threatened if the fire continued unchecked across the road.
A Maine Forest Service incident command vehicle and the Washington County Strike Team Communications Unit were set up at the rear of the fire. A staging area and incident helispot were also set up in the area, which allowed for an effective incident command post location. The Washington County Sherriff’s Department played a key role in assisting on the incident by prohibiting all non-incident vehicle traffic to the fire area. One of the responding deputies was designated to be the Law Enforcement Group Supervisor, thereby establishing a single contact for all traffic, evacuation and other law enforcement needs.
As the fire continued to burn to the east, Rangers began to prepare for the possibility of the fire threatening several homes on the Tibbettstown Road in Columbia Falls, as the fire had crossed into the municipality. Winds at a mobile weather station set up at the incident command post showed winds gusting to 40 mph. Ranger Courtney Hammond was designated to manage a structure protection group and coordinate the deployment of all mutual aid resources that were responding to the fire. Firefighters and engines from the towns of Columbia Falls, Columbia, Harrington, Jonesport, Jonesboro, Cherryfield and Addison responded and each was assigned a structure to triage and protect as the fire approached. The Moosehorn National Wildlife Refuge also responded to the call at the request of the Forest Service, bringing two Type 6 wildland fire engines, a tracked vehicle and a crew of 8. Ranger Hammond used this group to burn out light, flashy fuels surrounding several of the threatened homes, while the municipal firefighters prepared for the oncoming flame front. The fire was now several hundred acres in size, threatened 14 structures and the main power line supplying electricity to eastern Washington County.
The Sheriff’s Office was now implementing an evacuation order for the threatened structures. A third Maine Forest Service helicopter was ordered as the fire continued to display intense fire behavior. There were dozens of spot fires ahead of the main body of the fire, as the incident commander and the other Division/Group Supervisors decided to concentrate most of their suppression efforts in a mostly defensive mode. Several dozer teams were asked to create a 30 foot ring of defensible space around several of the threatened structures.
At approximately 1800 hours, the fire intensity began to subside as the forecasted weather front approached, bringing increased relative humidity and cooler temperatures to the fire area. Now at nearly 700 acres, the fire behavior began to moderate allowing for the firefighters to take more direct action in an offensive mode. At 2000 hours, the fire was declared contained as light rain showers began to fall on the fire area. In all, 735 acres burned threatening 14 structures. None of the structures were damaged, no equipment was damaged and there were no injuries to firefighters or the public.
Approximately 60 firefighters from local communities, inmate firefighters from the Downeast Correctional Facility in Bucks Harbor and the Charleston Correctional Facility, local contractors with heavy equipment, and Maine’s Forest Rangers all worked to suppress what is, to date, Maine’s largest wildfire in 2006.
The summary of weather data accumulated by the Maine Forest Service weather stations is attached to this report. It notes that the 24 hour rain was 0 inches, temperature 66 degrees, and relative humidity 22 percent at MEFS Jonesboro at 1300 hours. The Washington County Strike Team Incident Command Vehicle’s weather station was set up at the incident command post locate at the rear of the fire. During the peak of the fire event, the radio operator reported gusts to 40 miles per hour.
The Boston Road Fire in Winterport broke out around noon on June 17th. Fanned by strong afternoon winds, it quickly spread up a ridge within a harvest area, finally consuming 4 acres before a Maine Forest Service helicopter, Rangers and volunteer fire fighters from Winterport, Stockton Springs, Hampden, Kenduskeag, Prospect, Frankfort, and West Franfort gained the upper hand. Prison crews also lent a hand in mop up of this fire.
The fire likely was the result of machinery. Rangers quickly located the point of origin along a skidder trail at the southern most section of the burn.
The skidder operator noticed the fire in it's early stage and attempted to scrap a line with the skidder's blade. The fire quickly spread up the hill, igniting the grease under the cowling and soon after ignited all four tires on the machine. The skidder valued at around @ $30,000 was a total loss.
There were no injuries to fire fighters, nor to the skidder operator. The fire remains under investigation, with Forest Rangers back on the scene today.
On May 12, 2004, at approximately 1:30 PM, a fire was reported on the west side of the Pleasant River in Township 24 MD BPP, in Washington County. Temperatures were in the mid seventies with winds from the Northwest at 4-7 miles per hour. Fuel types were old blueberry fields and young hardwoods in the area where the fire first started. Since one seasonal camp was threatened, the initial attack resources focused on protecting that structure, as well as trying to hold the fire between an old road and the Pleasant River.
The fire spread rapidly through very dry fine fuels and was pushed by increasingly strong winds. Initial attack personnel were unable to prevent the fire from spotting across to the east side of the Pleasant River into a four-year old timber harvest. This severely complicated suppression efforts. The fuel type on the east side of the river was hardwood, mixed growth and logging slash. The topography also changed to upslope conditions on the west side of Beech Hill. Therefore, the fire spread rapidly because of this fuel type, topography and the wind conditions.
A gate and water bars hampered access on the eastern side of the fire. The gate and water bars had to be removed before wildfire engines could gain access to the advancing fire. Initially, a helicopter was called in to drop water to help prevent the fire spreading. Shortly after the first helicopter arrived on scene, a second helicopter was dispatched to assist. The two helicopters dropped approximately 27,000 gallons of water and assisted with aerial recognizance. Type IV wildfire engines, vehicles obtained through the federal excess property program, were brought in from the Harrington and Columbia Fire Departments. The Downeast Hotshots, personnel from Cherryfield Foods, Inc., and personnel from several area fire departments carried out fire line suppression efforts. Cherryfield Foods, Inc., a long time collaborator in wildfire control, donated the use of tractors, water tanks and trucks. Maine Forest Service equipment utilized at the fire scene included portable pumps, several thousand feet of hose, one type IV wildfire engine, two huey helicopters, two Bombardier tracked vehicles, and two all terrain vehicles. Rangers from Jonesboro, Wesley, Beddington and Hancock worked to control the fire.
The fire was 100% controlled by approximately 7:00 PM on May 12th and 161 acres had been burned. Suppression efforts continued for several days, with inmate firefighters and guards from the Downeast Correctional Facility assisting Maine Forest Service Rangers. A ranger from Greenville arrived on scene early on May 13th to assist with planning and mapping through the use of Global Positioning Equipment. The attached map was produced from field data collected, downloaded and differentially corrected via the Internet through the University of Maine system. Two rangers from Jonesboro investigated the cause by following “macro burn indicators,” which led them to the general fire origin area. Burn indicators are char patterns, ash deposits, soot deposits, areas of protection, cupping, branch freezing, etc., which clearly tell the story of what the fire did and how it progressed. The rangers began searching for the area of ignition after locating the general area of origin. This area of origin reduced the search to an area of only a few square feet. In this small area, “micro indicators” led investigators to the point of ignition. Micro indicators are similar to macro indicators, but these objects, which tell the fire story, are very small, and in some cases, may require magnification instruments. Eventually, the ranger investigators found the ignition point. At the point of ignition, evidence was found that showed the fire was intentional. The investigation remains open and a reward for information is available through the Maine Wildfire Arson Hotline at 1-800-987-0257.
A permitted debris burn that was unattended resulted in a fire that occurred on the Island Road in the town of Denmark on April 8, 2004 around 3:19pm. It was a Class 3 day with changing winds of 5-8 mph and temperatures of 60 degrees. Access to the fire was a narrow camp road but did allow the fire vehicles egress into the fire. The fire started in the fire pit shown in photo #2. When the Denmark Fire Department showed up the first camp that they arrived at was totally engulfed, the next camp was all ready consumed by the fire and the third camp ignited and burned while the fire department was trying to get past the first structure that they were protecting. Brownfield was called for mutual aid and responded. They were assigned to an adjacent camp road to keep the fire from spreading. Potential for the fire to burn through the woods, cross the adjacent camp road, and burn right into the village was of major concern. Three small camps were destroyed with an estimated damage of $150,000. The fire was contained soon after the Fire Department arrived and controlled within 45 minutes. Information on how you can better protect your property from wildfires in the Wildland Urban Interface can be found on this website at the location below:
Bald Mountain in Somerset County experienced a series of lightning strikes on 8-16-02. A Ranger in the area working on one of these lightning strikes looked up at the top of the mountain and spotted a column of black smoke. A Maine Forest Protection Division patrol flight confirmed that there was indeed a fire started right on the very top of the mountain. The fire was a logistical challenge since all firefighters, fire equipment, and water had to be flown in by helicopter. Bald Mountain is 2629' high and winds and altitude made for some tough flying. The fire burned 3 acres in high altitude duff which was extremely dry and hard to extinguish. Traditional back pack tanks and hand tools could not keep up with the fire. A folding tank was set up and the helicopter kept busy filling the tank for use with the portable pumps and hose lays. Forest Protection Division Forest Rangers, the Greenville Hot Shots and crews from the Charleston Correctional Facility battled the fire for four days until they finally got it under control.. Upon investigation it was found that this fire started adjacent to the Appalachian Trail and most likely was started from a hiker's cigarette.
The total cost of extinguishing this fire was $40,000 and reflects a deep burning fire that created firefighting challenges at every turn. The first 24 hours alone cost $12,204.
The Black Pinnacle fire started on Sept. 9 2002. It was reported by a Forest Protection Division air detection flight at 1330 hrs. and burned very intensely through the 5-15 foot tall fir and spruce regeneration. It quickly spread up a 15% slope to mature spruce before being slowed by a hardwood timber type change at the top of the ridge. Total acreage was 67.2. The fire was manned until it was declared out on Sept. 23 2002.
The number of firefighting personnel ranged from 60+ during the first two days to 4-5 during the final mop up and patrol stages. During the first 2 shifts there were 2 type I dozers, 2 type II dozers, and 1 excavator attempting to put a dozer line around the fire. 4 skidders and skidder tanks were utilized during initial attack and the ensuing mop up.
Crews from the Greenville, Monson, Guilford, Sangerville, Dover, and Brownville Hot Shots worked on the fire. Crews from the Charleston and Down East Correctional Facilities as well as the High Adventure Outward Bound Facility also worked on the fire.
All Rangers from the Moosehead District were involved on this fire at alternating times. Four Rangers from outside the District were brought in to over man. There were three ranger pilots involved at alternating times as well.
This fire was intentionally set in a coyote hunting blind and quickly spread downwind and upslope. The investigation is still ongoing. The Pinnacle fire resulted in $72,000 in damages to mature timber and $9,780 in regeneration to the landowners. Total damage for this fire was $81,780.00 The total cost for suppressing this fire was $169,640.00.
The weather at the time the fire started was: Temp-91, Wind-NW 18, FFM-12 SI-20, BU-85, DI-447, Class Day-5.
Long distance water setup was required due to availability and location. A Chrysler pumper was set up on 6th Roach Pond after building an access road to the site. This was used to refill water tenders. Type 1 and 2 water tenders were used in an extended water shuttle to dump tanks. Mark III pumps were used to transfer water and class A foam to the fire along the flanks. The newly developed Hemmet, a 3,000 gallon 8X8 water tender was utilized and performed very well.
Forest Protection Division Huey helicopters were utilized on the fire for initial attack and hot spotting. A Quebec CL 415 water bomber, through a prearranged agreement within the Northeast Forest Fire Compact, was brought in and dropped 40+ loads of foam and water.
On the first night of the fire, crews were attempting to put a dozer line around the fire. On the right flank, the fuel consisted of mature spruce and regeneration. The winds at 0100hrs. were gusting to 30-35 mph towards the head. The shallow soils were impacted by the intense heat of the initial burn. The unusually strong winds for that time caused large groups of mature softwood to blow down. These blow downs ignited upon contacting the underlying ground fire and mass ignited, allowing the fire to climb into the crowns of other trees. Flame lengths were estimated to be 100-200 feet. A type I dozer, type II dozer, excavator and the strikers had to retreat 3 times due to blow ups and intense fire behavior. Lookouts, communications, escape routes, and safety zones (LCES) were in place and utilized.
There were a significant number of resources on this fire for several days and there were no injuries or accident. This is a credit to the Incident Command System management structure that was in place and the emphasis that was placed on safety and sound suppression techniques utilized in conjunction with effective and continual size up.
There were a number of foresters from both Plum Creek and Prentiss and Carlisle involved during all stages of this fire. Their support and assistance was an invaluable asset during the fire itself, the ensuing investigation, and the damage assessment phase.
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