Raymond and  Ethel Bradeen’s home on Chadbourne’s Ridge Road, in North Waterboro was one of many that burned in the 1947 fires.   It’s a view taken from near the intersection of the Webber Road. The Bradeens re-built on the same site.  COURTESY PHOTO/Linda Hanscom

Raymond and Ethel Bradeen’s home on Chadbourne’s Ridge Road, in North Waterboro was one of many that burned in the 1947 fires. It’s a view taken from near the intersection of the Webber Road. The Bradeens re-built on the same site. COURTESY PHOTO/Linda Hanscom

YORK COUNTY — It has been 70 years since the Fire of 1947 consumed almost 200,000 acres in Maine, much of it in York County. Most of those who fought it have died. Many of those remaining were children at the time, but the fire — fires plural really — is indelibly etched in their memories.

The George Hanscom store at the intersection of Route 111 and Kennebunk Pond Road prior to the fire of 1847. COURTESY PHOTO/Linda Hanscom

The George Hanscom store at the intersection of Route 111 and Kennebunk Pond Road prior to the fire of 1847. COURTESY PHOTO/Linda Hanscom

“I remember the smell of the smoke, and the sun disappearing,” said Judith Goodhue Hayes, who was 8 and living in East Waterboro. She now resides in Annapolis, Maryland. “We all gathered by the two-room schoolhouse. We were told if it came over Ossipee Hill our town would burn, and if it didn’t, we’d be safe,” Hayes said in a phone interview. “The whole town gathered there. I remember it coming over the mountain. It was very scary. We knew we had to evacuate.”

The  site of the George Hanscom store at the intersection of Route 111 and Kennebunk Pond Road after the 1947 fire swept through. COURTESY PHOTO/Brick Store Museum, Kennebunk

The site of the George Hanscom store at the intersection of Route 111 and Kennebunk Pond Road after the 1947 fire swept through. COURTESY PHOTO/Brick Store Museum, Kennebunk

 In North Kennebunkport, now the town of Arundel, Jackie Colomb was a 4-year-old. But she has vivid memories.

“I remember the big barrels of water the fire companies would put in the yard,” said Colomb. The little girl kept her grandmother company while everyone else,  including her mother and aunts, were out fighting the fire. Her grandmother kept the coffee hot and ingredients for quick meals at the ready, to feed the hungry firefighters.

She remembers when it was time to evacuate.

“I remember looking out the back window of the car and saw fire at the back of the house,”  she said “We wondered if it would still be standing when we got back.”

It was, but many weren’t.

The fire burned a massive, unforgiving swath through York County. 

Over the course of 11 days in October, 1947, 196,391 acres in Maine burned. The fires took homes, barns, businesses and summer cottages. 

Most of the acreage that burned was in York County — 109,110 acres primarily in Waterboro and Lyman, but including locations in Alfred, Shapleigh, Newfield, Limerick, Parsonsfield, Hollis, Kennebunk, Saco and Dayton. Another 21,910 acres burned in North Kennebunkport, and in Biddeford, around West Street, Guinea Road, Fortunes Rocks and Granite Point.

Stephen Spofford, Kennebunk’s town historian, in a lecture hosted by the Brick Store Museum Saturday, said 20,120 cares burned in Fryeburg, Brownfield, Denmark and Porter, in Oxford County.

Another 17,188 acres burned at Bar Harbor and Acadia National Park.

In Durham and surrounding towns and in Washington County a total of 28,068 acres burned.

Spofford drew from his own research and from frequent talks with Joyce Butler, the author of “Wildfire Loose: The Week Maine Burned,” who spent three years researching the fire.

Rita Drew was 17 and a student at Gorham Teacher’s College as the fires were burning in York County, including on north Alfred, where she was raised. Drew said she remembers looking toward York County from the attic of her college dormitory and seeing the red glow in the sky.  

The summer and fall of 1947 was hot and dry — there were 108 days without rain, according to stories in a special 8-page Journal Tribune supplement produced 10 years ago to mark the 60th anniversary of the fire. According to that account, in Shapleigh the fire broke out Oct. 17. In Waterboro, 88 homes were lost and 45 cottages burned. Lyman was ravaged in about two hours, with the village of Goodwin’s Mills saved because of a bulldozed fire break that encircled it. Spofford on Saturday noted the Maine Turnpike was being built at the time, and work was halted so bulldozers and other heavy equipment could be used to help fight fires.

The National Guard was brought in to help. 

Accounts from folks interviewed for the 2007 supplement included memories from Roland Goodwin, of Shapleigh, who was 23 in 1947. 

“Fire had gone through a swamp in Waterboro. We were putting out hot spots and the wind started up. There was a dark cloud overhead and we thought there would be a shower but it was Newfield burning,” said Goodwin in that 2007 interview. “We started down West Road and stopped at a farm just before (what is now Massabesic High School). A man had a dairy farm and he was getting ready to shoot his cows. We convinced him to wait.”

Janet Weymouth Colwell shared her memories coming home to Newfield after staying with relatives upstate:

“Coming through Newfield Village all you saw was chimneys and dead trees,” Colwell said in the 2007 interview. In West Newfield, the fires seemed to jump around, taking one house but sparing another. After the fire, a prefab building was brought  to serve as a school because the schoolhouse had burned. The vault was one of the few items in the burned-out Town Hall that was saved — and even some items inside the vault were scorched, she said.

On Oct. 20, 1947, an underground fire burning in North Kennebunkport jumped U.S. Route 1 and headed for Goose Rocks Beach and Fortunes Rocks. At Goose Rocks Beach, 100 houses burned and the fire burned to the sea, Spofford told a full house at the Saturday program. 

“It drove people into the water,” he said. 

At Cape Porpoise and the surrounding area, 82 houses burned.

On Oct. 23, the fires came over Ossipee Hill in Waterboro, as feared. Two-thirds of South Waterboro burned, three-quarters of East Waterboro burned, Spofford said. 

Linda Hanscom, 7 at the time, pointed out the the South Waterboro devastation as seen from the intersection of Main Street (Route 202) and West Road. To the west on Main Street, toward Alfred, all of the homes were destroyed, while east on Main Street, most were spared. It is noticeable today — large, older homes on one side of the intersection, smaller, newer homes built after the fire on the other.

In Lyman, 192 buildings, including 100 lakeside camps, burned.

In Dayton, the Town Hall, school and 29 homes were burned, along with a dairy farm owned by the Meserve family, Spofford said.

Photographs on display from the Brick Store Museum show burned-out properties, firefighters working in their everyday clothing, using any means at their disposal, including shovels and brooms, to beat out fire. The museum’s exhibit is ongoing.

Following the fires, many communities established larger fire departments than had existed previously.

According to Spofford, 15 people died during the fires. He said 3,500 people were displaced, and 2,500 were homeless.

Neighbors helped neighbors.

While many homes were lost, “The human spirit was not killed by the fire,” Spofford said.

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 324-4444 (local call in Sanford) or 282-1535, ext. 327 or [email protected]


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