As Craig Hickman begins healing from the serious burns he suffered on Tuesday morning, the state legislator and organic farmer from Winthrop may measure his recovery in days or weeks.
But Hickman may take comfort in a different metric: the number of friends and supporters who have offered to assist his and his husband’s business, Annabessacook Farm, during its busiest time of the year.
Dozens of people have offered to help weed, water, and harvest the peas, garlic, greens and other produce that are sold from their farm stand at 192 Annabessacook Road.
Hickman and his husband, Jop Blom, did not respond to requests for an interview on Wednesday, but they offered thanks on the Facebook page of their farm, which also includes a bed-and-breakfast.
“He had many guardian angels watching over him and is expected to make a full recovery,” said the Facebook post, which was written by an unidentified author. “He asked me to express his gratitude for the outpouring of support today. We are blessed to have so many friends who truly care.”
On Tuesday, investigators said that Hickman was using gasoline to light a small brush pile on fire when vapors from the gas exploded.
While he expects to make a full recovery from the accident, he was still in the hospital on Wednesday after receiving second-degree burns over his torso, right arm, and thighs, according to his farm’s Facebook page.
On social media, people from across the political spectrum — including Gov. Paul LePage — have offered effusive statements of praise and support for the Democrat, who represents Winthrop, Readfield and part of Monmouth. And more than 100 people have donated to a fundraiser for the farm, pledging thousands of dollars.
It’s still not exactly clear why Hickman started the fire on Tuesday. That afternoon, investigators said that he was attempting to burn a pile of brush by pouring a small amount of gasoline onto the pile, then lighting a cardboard egg carton and placing it on top, according to a spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.
But on Wednesday, Sgt. Joel Davis of the State Fire Marshal’s Office said he’d heard that Hickman may have been trying to flush out a groundhog or other rodent, and that “the brush might have caught fire accidentally.”
Still, experts agreed that any attempt to light a fire using flammable liquids is a bad idea. In Maine, such mishaps usually happen a couple times a year, according to Davis.
“We wouldn’t advise anybody to use gasoline or any ignitable liquid, because of the volatility of vapors,” Davis said.
It also was not clear if a burn permit was issued to Hickman on Tuesday, or whether he required one for whatever he was doing. Under state and local law, such permits are required to burn wood debris and anything larger than a campfire.
Dispatchers from the Winthrop Police Department did not issue a permit to Hickman on Tuesday, according to Chief Ryan Frost.
A spokesman for the Maine Forest Service said that he couldn’t comment on whether a permit had been issued, because the case is under investigation.
Dan Brooks, chief of the Winthrop Fire Department, said that he usually is notified when the Maine Forest Service has issued a permit, but he doesn’t recall such a notification coming on Tuesday.
“We wish him the best,” Brooks said. “It’s a tough lesson. Putting a flammable liquid on a fire, we’ve had that in town a couple times, and it’s never a good idea.”
People who know Hickman are not surprised by the show of support that has come his way since the accident. For years, the farmer and lawmaker has tried to end hunger in the Winthrop region. He’s given away produce to people who ask for it and made his farm available to people who needed showers after widespread power outages. He’s cooked gumbo at fundraisers for the Winthrop Area Rotary Foundation.
Last year, he helped push through a law that affirms the rights of cities and towns to regulate their local food production. The so-called “food sovereignty” law should cut the red-tape for small farmers and make it easier for them to share produce within their communities, Hickman has said.
“He’s been very generous, giving people food when they need it, and he’s very active in the Rotary Club,” said Janet Cowperthwaite, a retired teacher who has a garden at Hickman’s property on Annabessacook Road. “I’m expecting that he has lots of friends who will show up and want to help, when it’s clear what needs to be done. I think people will rise up and give back.”
In the coming days, anyone interested in helping on the farm should check the Facebook page of Annabessacook Farm, said Sarah Fuller, chairwoman of the Winthrop Town Council, who is a close friend of Hickman and Blom.
They are considering how to best enlist volunteers in the weeks ahead, but Fuller said the most in-demand work will be weeding, watering and harvesting.
Fuller picked up Hickman’s mail Wednesday and checked the inventory of vegetables and eggs at the farm.
“Craig is so grateful for the outpouring of support,” she said. “Information will be available soon on how people can volunteer on the farm.”
A simple way to help, Fuller added, is to purchase fresh produce and eggs from the farm stand that was built there last year. It runs on an honor system, with prices listed on a chalk board and a bucket for leaving money.
Rep. Craig Hickman of Winthrop