The wind atop Mount Abraham kicked up late Monday morning, rekindling a stubborn fire on the mountain that had persisted in the tall cedars and tundra underbrush since a lightning strike Wednesday, but a daylong effort to put it out yielded little result.

Ranger Shane Nichols, crew chief and incident commander at the scene, said the mountain fire west of Kingfield in Franklin County had consumed 43 acres by midday Monday as firefighters battled tough terrain, dry conditions and wind.

“The fire is waking up again,” Nichols said by phone at noontime Monday. “It’s all uphill, every step. The fire is burning everything in its path.”

By 6 p.m. Monday, the fire still wasn’t out and Nichols said the crew would spend about another hour on the mountain before coming down for the night. They will return Tuesday morning.

Nichols said the conditions on the summit of the mountain – referred to as Mount Abram by locals – “are what you’d see in a dry August.”

“At this time nothing really has changed (from earlier in the day),” he said Monday night. “The wind picked up earlier and we got some fire. The crew was able to handle it.”

On top of it, Maine Forest Service Chief Firefighter William Hamilton said Monday afternoon that the terrain is brutal for crews.

“They have a 90-minute hike with gear over steep rocks to reach the fire,” Hamilton said.

The crew, with the help of two helicopters, had been working to put out the fire on the 4,050-foot-high mountain all weekend.

A crew of nine firefighters worked the perimeter of the fire Monday afternoon with a helicopter dropping water and hauling large triangular blivets, or water containers, that are deposited atop the mountain in marked spots as water sources for crews fighting the fire using water backpacks or attaching hoses to gravity feed on the fire.

“The Huey (helicopter) is dumping 240 gallons at a time with a bucket,” Nichols said. “And our blivets, or triangular shaped bags, are in two sizes. I have 72-gallon and I have 134-gallon. My pilot and I will fly one of those blivets in and place it on one of those markers.”

A second helicopter brought supplies to firefighters.

More firefighters and more equipment arrived by mid-day Monday, he said.

Nichols said once crews break out above the contiguous tree line, “it is dangerous rock scree with many acres of mountaintop tundra, mosses, blueberries, brush and mountain spruce, then it breaks into another rock outcropping.

“It’s a very difficult, dangerous terrain.”

Regional Forest Ranger Jeffrey Currier told the Portland Press Herald on Sunday that most mountain fires they battle in the area are out within a day, but this one is different.

“This has become a very labor-intensive effort. Without a doubt, we are going to be fighting this fire for another three or four days,” Currier said.

Making matters worse, it was tough to find a source of water on the mountain. Nichols said Monday night the helicopter was taking water from a small pond down below “due west of the peak.”

He said while some fires are fought through the night, this one wouldn’t be. But the crew will be back in the morning.

“They’ll prepare themselves first thing in the morning to be up there working with the extra equipment we’re trying to get up there,” he said. “If the terrain was safer, we would. And we do fight fire all night long because the wind usually goes down, and it gives us an opportunity to possibly get ahead of the fire, but this terrain will not allow it.”

The mountain is less than two miles from the Appalachian Trail west of the town of Kingfield from which smoke was visible Monday, Nichols said.

A popular hiking destination, the mountain is covered with old growth forests dating back 300 years. Four miles of the mountain’s ridgeline extends above the treeline. It also is home to seven rare plant species. In 2000, the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands designated Mount Abraham as an ecological reserve, according to the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

Nichols said the “ladder fuel” of ground growth into the trees is continuous and adds to the easy ignition of the trees that become engulfed.

The mountain has had its share of drama.

In 1967, two military jets collided during a cross-country formation flight, and one of them, a McDonnell F-101B Voodoo, crashed into the mountain. The two-man crew ejected, suffering minor injuries, while the other plane made an emergency landing in Bangor.

The mountain is also near the portion of the Appalachian Trail where Geraldine Largay, a thru-hiker from Tennessee, disappeared in July 2013. Her remains were found last October close by the mountain in Redington Township. Largay was hiking to the Spaulding lean-to in Mount Abram Township, which is a little less than three miles from the mountain to the northwest. She went off the trail and got lost on her way there from the Poplar Ridge lean-to, which is just east of the mountain, which is 1.7 miles from the trail.

Nichols said the lightning strike that sparked the fire was seen in Kingfield on Wednesday.

“I have talked with locals here in the town of Kingfield that just happened to be looking in that direction when the storm came over the mountain Wednesday afternoon,” he said. “Many people heard the boom. A number of people saw the flash occur on top of the mountain.”

Nichols said there have been no reported injuries.

“There is no population there,” he said. “There are no roads there, no buildings.”


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