Info Box: Fire officials recommend to properly dispose of cigarettes and cigars, making sure they’re fully out before disposing them. Also, clear but don’t burn brush from within 30 feet of your home.

A brushfire burned about an acre of woods along the Westbrook Arterial in the dry and windy afternoon on April 20.

Fire experts say fires similar to last week’s are typical in the two to three week dry period in the spring that is one of the most dangerous in the year for brushfires.

Westbrook firefighters responded to the fire at around 1 p.m. with Engine 4 and a forestry truck with its own small tank and hose, said Deputy Fire Chief Thaddeus Soltys. Over the next hour, the fire fighters used all of the water in Engine 4 and switched to Engine 3 before putting out the fire and soaking the area.

The fire was in a stretch of woods about 50 yards from the arterial, which had to be partially closed while firefighters battled the blaze. The fire was limited to a swath perpendicular to the tree line instead of down the line. All told, about 15 fire fighters worked to extinguish the blaze, using 1,200 gallons of water, said Soltys.

Westbrook Fire Inspector Lt. Chuck Jarrett has ruled out all accidental causes of the fire-lightning, electrical, spontaneous combustion. He said he believes the fire was started by a human element. Jarrett said he has no suspects as of yet and doubts whether he will identify a suspect because of the remote location of the fire.

Ranger Kent Nelson, a fire prevention specialist with the Maine Forest Service, said this time of year between the brush and grass drying after the winter and the coming of new greenery is a dangerous one. He said the state has conditions like this every year, but this year the two to three week window is two weeks early because there was no snow cover.

Nelson said this year the temperatures are warmer than normal and humidity is low. Also, high winds combined with lack of rain make for ripe conditions for a fire.

“This week we had over 30 fires in the southern third of the state,” said Nelson on Friday. Almost 90 acres of land were burned last week, which is the most of any week so far for this spring, he said.

Nelson said the causes range from machinery to improperly disposed of cigarette butts, children with matches, sparks from train engines, and people burning waste piles and not fully putting them out. He urged residents doing spring cleanup on their yards to wait until steady rain comes and burn permits can be issued again before burning any brush piles.

“Be patient. We’re all anxious to clear our yard,” said Nelson. “Wait until we have some steady rain. This is from experience. I have a brush pile myself.”

On a scale of one to five, last Thursday’s conditions were a four because of the lack of rain, low relative humidity, and wind. Burn permits are typically issued on a day rated one or two.

Winds were even higher the day before the fire and could have drastically altered the course of the fire. “If the wind was like yesterday, it would have been a very different scenario,” said Captain Sam Webster of the Westbrook fire department.

Webster said the fire was a relatively small one, the biggest problem for firefighters was having a limited water supply because it was off the arterial. Firefighters were able to attack the fire head-on into the wind and make a fire line around its edges.

Once they stopped the flames, firefighters soaked the area and cut down “dead heads,” dried and dead branches that may have been touched by flames. Most of the damage in this case was limited to the underbrush and the lowest foot or so of tree trunks.


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