A fire in Lakeville burned 15 acres on Monday. Photo courtesy of the Maine Forest Service

A stretch of dry weather has put most of Maine at high fire risk, creating conditions that make it easy for wildfires to ignite and spread.

Fire danger is high in all of southern, central and eastern Maine, according to the Maine Forest Service’s daily wildfire danger report. The risk of wildfires is moderate in northern Maine bordering the Quebec province.

When fire danger is high, all dead fuels, such as grass, ignite readily, and unattended brush fires and campfires are likely to escape their bounds. Fires spread rapidly and can become serious and difficult to control.

Kent Nelson, a forest ranger specialist with the Maine Forest Service, said an unusually long stretch of relative low humidity – five days – combined with high winds have created the dangerous conditions.

The last time Maine saw this long a stretch of relative humidity under 20 percent was in 1948, he said.

In the last three days, there have been 43 wildfires across the state.

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So far this year, there have been 262 reported wildfires, 42 percent started by debris and open burning, according to the Maine Forest Rangers dashboard. The 10-year average is 550 fires a year.

“I think this is going to be a busy fire year,” Nelson said, noting that the last one was 2020, when 1,100 fires burned about 1,000 acres.

The National Weather Service on Thursday issued a special weather statement advising that “a very dry air mass and breezy conditions will combine with dead and dry fuels such as grass, leaves and twigs to create the potential for controlled fire spreads across interior portions of Maine and New Hampshire.”

“Extra caution should be taken to prevent wildfires,” the weather service stated in its warning. “Always consult with fire officials before engaging in any open burning activities and comply with all applicable laws and regulations. Never leave an open fire unattended and always extinguish campfires completely before leaving.”

PREPARING FOR FIRES

The Maine Forest Service is positioning fire engines and helicopters in areas where it is anticipated wildfires could occur.

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On Monday, a fire was sparked when a property owner in Brunswick struck a rock with a lawnmower blade. It took firefighters about 90 minutes to extinguish the fire, which burned about an acre of brush.

Firefighters in Cumberland spent several hours Wednesday afternoon extinguishing a woods fire.

In York County, Goodwins Mills Fire-Rescue and neighboring departments put out a fire on Wednesday that burned at least three-quarters of an acre in Lyman.

Goodwins Mills Chief Matt Duross said that the fire likely started from a permitted burn five days earlier. When a fire is not completely extinguished, an ember can be picked up by the wind and catch on dry material.

“The next thing you know, you have a woods fire,” he said.

Duross said people should always check the fire danger and get a burn permit prior to burning. Once they have done that, they should stay with the fire and make sure it is properly extinguished.

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“When you’re done burning, you really need to take water and hand tools to the pile and make sure it is turned over, moved around and doused with water so you know it’s completely out,” he said.

Nelson, of the Maine Forest Service, is urging people to take extra precautions. He said people using lawnmowers or brush cutters should avoid going over areas where they can’t clearly see what they’re mowing to avoid hitting rocks that could spark fires.

DROWN, STIR, FEEL

Anyone tending a campfire should use the “drown, stir, feel” method to be sure the fire is completely out, Nelson said. Drown by pouring on water. Stir the coals with a shovel. After five or 10 minutes, use the back of a hand to feel if there’s any heat. If there is, repeat the process until the fire is out.

A couple of recent fires were started when drivers pulled to the side of the road and the car exhaust or catalytic converter ignited dry grass, Nelson said. He advised people to avoid pulling onto grass when possible. If that’s not possible, they should get out of the car and check that there is no fire before they pull away.

People who spot a fire need to call for help, he said. “Don’t think it’s going to go out on its own. The sooner they call 911, the sooner we can respond with resources to get that fire out before it threatens any property damage or heads toward a structure.”

Windy conditions are expected Friday, but rain is in the long-range forecast. Until it comes, Nelson said, “we need everyone to be careful with outdoor fires.”

“If you have a brush pile to burn, you just need to be patient and wait until we get some steady rain to bring the fire danger down low enough,” he said.

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