With little rain in the forecast and moderate drought conditions across much of the state, fire officials are asking people to be extra careful with fireworks and campfires during the long Fourth of July weekend.

Southern coastal Maine is in a moderate drought, while most of the rest of the state is experiencing abnormally dry conditions, according to the weekly U.S. Drought Monitor.

Drenching rains were expected to move through the area Friday night and into the early hours Saturday, dropping between a half-inch and 1.5 inches in southern and western Maine. But that rain won’t be enough to alleviate the moderate drought conditions, said Nikki Becker of the National Weather Service in Gray. No rain is predicted for the remainder of the holiday weekend, she said.

So far this year, there have been 464 wildfires throughout Maine that have burned a total of 752 acres. That’s roughly 12 percent more fires and affected acreage than the entire 2015 fire season, the Maine Forest Service said.

Given the dry conditions and potential for more wildfires, the forest service is asking people to be “extremely careful with any outdoor fires” and to take the proper precautions while igniting fireworks.

Kent Nelson, a forest ranger specialist with the forest service, said people should be especially cautious with campfires by keeping them small and making sure the fire isn’t smoldering when they leave the area.

“That’s where we get into trouble,” he said. “You get conditions like we have now where it’s warm and dry and the wind is blowing, and that’s all it takes for the campfire to rekindle and start a forest fire. We ask that people double and triple check their fire before they leave the area.”

Nelson said people also should have permission from the property owner before starting a campfire and check with local officials about the fire danger and permits.

Portland Assistant Fire Chief Keith Gautreau said the city may prohibit all outdoor recreational fires if winds exceed 15 mph or if the fire danger goes from moderate to high.

“We’re a densely populated city, so the danger is a lot higher for us, opposed to somewhere up north,” he said Thursday.

Nelson said people setting off fireworks should take extra steps to make sure sparks don’t start a fire.

“They really should not be lit in an area such as the woods,” he said. “If one goes off in the wrong direction, we recommend people keep an eye on the area for a couple of hours and maybe even check it again the next morning to make sure it’s not smoldering.”

If fireworks do start a fire, the person who ignited them is responsible and could be held liable for costs related to the fire, Nelson said.

“That’s a firm warning,” he said. “This is a dangerous thing.”

At Phantom Fireworks in Scarborough, customers are given pamphlets that include tips on how to safely use fireworks during dry conditions, said Jeff Graham, the store’s general manager. Graham and his staff recommend customers check with local officials to assess the fire danger where they plan to set off fireworks.

Phantom Fireworks includes a “Fireworks University” section on its website that provides safety tips for using fireworks in dry conditions. Tips include keeping a source of water close by, designating someone to watch for sparks that could ignite fires and lighting fireworks only on paved surfaces or in dirt areas without grass and vegetation.

The moderate fire danger doesn’t seem to be putting a damper on people’s enthusiasm for creating their own fireworks displays this weekend.

“Business is booming,” Graham said.

The Maine State Fire Marshal’s Office, meanwhile, is hoping for a less-eventful holiday weekend than last year, when one Maine man was killed and several others were injured by fireworks.

“We’re keeping our fingers crossed that nobody gets seriously hurt or injured,” Fire Marshal Joseph Thomas said.

The Fire Marshal’s Office completed inspections of the official town fireworks displays this week. Prior to the Legislature legalizing fireworks in 2011, the Fire Marshal’s Office used to conduct operations at the Maine-New Hampshire border to seize fireworks coming into the state illegally and accompany law enforcement officers on patrols. This year, staff will be on-call for any incidents over the weekend.

Thomas urged anyone using fireworks to carefully follow instructions, observe safety precautions and stay sober.

“If people are prudent and do what they are supposed to do when using (fireworks), they should be fine,” Thomas said. “To be frank, the biggest problem we have is when people use alcohol and fireworks together, and they don’t mix.”

Staff Writer Kevin Miller contributed to this report.


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.

filed under: