Under fire department supervision, more than half of the Hunter Road blueberry field acreage will go up in smoke this month.

Freeport Fire and Rescue will do a controlled burn on more than half of the Hunter Road blueberry field sometime this month, as suggested by both the town and the Cumberland County Cooperative Extension.

Small trees and weeds are growing in the roughly 4 acres of wild blueberries, once the site of a commercial operation, near the Hunter Road Recreational Facility. The field is open to the public for picking.

Richard Brzozowski, county agent for the Cumberland County Cooperative Extension, said he got a call from Planner Donna Larson in July to look over the fields and provide some advice on how best to manage them.

Paul Conley, deputy fire chief, said last week that he received a request from the town to burn half the field.

“I’ve been asked to pick a date and a crew, and it’s as simple as that,” Conley said. “We’ll burn half the field. We’ll back-light it, and monitor it, and just let it burn naturally.”

Brzozowski, who now works for the Orono-based University of Maine Cooperative Extension, said he connected town officials with David Yarborough, the extension’s blueberry specialist.

“His job is to do research and educational programs,” Brzozowski said. “He suggested they get soil tests. You want low pH, or acidic soil, for blueberries.”

Brzozowski said that a combination of bush-hogging and burning is advised for blueberry fields management to control weeds and insects – half the field at a time.

“Half of the field is fruit for next year, the other half is fruit for this year,” he said. “It’s not like you see the whole field on fire. You go down the field with a propane burner. The main thing is weed control.”

Brzozowski explained how burning controls weeds and pests, while allowing the blueberry plant to grow.

“What you’re trying to do,” he said, “is to burn so you’re getting rid of any disease impact. Blueberries are low to the ground. The life is in the roots, which are underground. They come back after a burn.”

Young trees – some as much as 12 feet high – had been growing in parts of the fields, he said. The fire-rescue crew might remove the larger ones, Brzozowski said.

Brzozowski said he suggests the town identify a manager and an assistant to manage the Hunter Road blueberry fields, to put signage up there and to post information on the town website.

The Hunter Road Fields Advisory Committee discussed the blueberry fields during its last meeting, in March. Walter Libby, committee vice chairman, suggested that the fields could be managed with a controlled burn, according to committee minutes. The committee generally agreed with the suggestion.

Al Presgraves, town engineer and town staffer on the committee, said that the public does pick the blueberries.

“People pick, maybe while they’re watching the games, and on other occasions,” Presgraves said. “The committee has felt like they wanted to maintain the blueberry fields, and that they hadn’t maintained them for a while, maybe in four years.”

Town Manager Peter Joseph said that he and Larson asked the fire department to conduct the burn.

“After the two-year cycle, we should be able to maintain the fields by cutting,” Joseph said. “We won’t use any chemicals or accelerants, and we’ll use water to douse it.”

Joseph said he has picked berries at the fields, with good results.

“I stopped for an hour and some change, and got a gallon bucket,” he said.

Grass and small trees are choking the blueberry fields near the Hunter Road Recreational Facility in Freeport.Staff photo by Larry Grard

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