It has been 75 years since the devastating forest fires that turned the state of Maine into an inferno. The fires took place in October 1947. The one that I recollect was in York County.

Newfield residents fight through the night to try to save their homes in October 1947. File photo

At that time I was a student going to business college in Lewiston on the GI Bill. A man appeared at our assembly and spoke about the fires burning fiercely in Maine. I was aware of them but had been busy with my studies. We had been through forest fires before, but not blazes of this magnitude, we later realized.

As it turned out, this person was asking for volunteers to help fight the fires. Well, obviously this was something new, as none of us had ever fought fires. A bunch of us young college students volunteered to do our bit for God and country. We had time to go home and change into our old clothes, then assembled where the bus was waiting to take us to where we were needed. 

We were a motley crew and knew nothing of firefighting. We boarded our ride and away we went; our destination, as it happened, was my hometown of Alfred. It was a short ride, and we had no idea of what was in store for us.

Even before we chugged into town we were aware of the smell of smoke and we knew this was serious business. Our bus landed in Alfred Mills, and we rallied around the people in charge to get our marching orders. We were issued handy-billies (emergency portable pumps), brooms and shovels. My dad’s tractor had a trailer hitched up to it; it was filled with our important belongings if we had to evacuate.

Next we boarded trucks, and in a jiffy, our group ended up in Alfred in a field owned by my dad. We ran into the woods, accompanied by members of the National Guard. It was obvious none of us knew how to fight forest fires. This area had been gotten under control, but there was more work to do.

Our group was moved from place to place and at one point we were directed to government land. With our gear, we plunged into an area where we could hear the crackling of the fire. We immediately attacked it with gusto, but it took only a few moments to see the fire was gaining on us. We fled to the dirt road and soon another truck of volunteers arrived. They asked us where the fire was; we pointed them in the right direction, and soon they were back, as the fire was too hot to handle. 

In one place, I think it may have been Lyman, we were able to save a farmhouse by surrounding it and keeping the fire away. We felt good about that.

In due time we returned to our classes and much to our surprise we received a small check from the government for our efforts. Read the books on the forest fires that occurred in the state of Maine in October 1947. 

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