Logging equipment sparks fire in Bethel

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BETHEL – Logging equipment is believed to have started a fire on Wednesday morning that scorched more than three acres of hardwood on a rugged slope of Mount Will, Maine Forest Service Ranger Mark Mayhew said at the scene.

“From what I’ve been told, it was started from a sawtooth feller-buncher that struck a rock” while sawing through a tree, Mayhew said.

The accident “really isn’t uncommon,” he added.

A logging operation had been under way when the fire began.

Mayhew said the hardwood forest below the ledges of Mount Will had been ravaged by the Ice Storm of 1998.

Bethel assistant fire Chief Mike Jodrey said during a rest break that a spark from the saw hitting the rock started the fire.

“The guys did an excellent job for what few people you can get in the daytime,” Mayhew said, surveying the damage and about 20 tired Bethel and Newry firefighters.

A logging “twitch” road was also credited with helping to prevent the fire from racing up and over the mountain in the wind. It allowed Bennett Lumbering logger Mike Bennett, who drove a feller-buncher machine up the road, to cut trees, dump dirt on the fire, and clear the path for Bethel and Newry forest fire water trucks, fire Capt. Frank Buiniskas said.

“If we didn’t have a crew on this line, chances are it would have jumped,” said Buiniskas, one of several firefighters who jumped off trucks ahead of the advancing blaze.

When Jodrey arrived, he said, “I couldn’t see anything, because it was hot, smoky and windy.”

At one point, while fighting the fire in the steep, densely wooded terrain, Jodrey said a gust of wind caught the fire and took it 50 feet in 30 seconds.

Mayhew said a forest fire helicopter was on standby but wasn’t needed.

Smoke from the fire was visible from Route 26 in Bethel and from Route 2 in Hanover.

By about 12:30 p.m., the fire had been extinguished and firefighters were catching a breather while waiting for Jodrey and a driver in Newry’s forest-fire deuce-and-a-half truck to return with water.

Jodrey drove the department’s 1951 Dodge forest-fire truck to the top of the twitch road, after which, the Newry truck was backed up the mountain.

While drinking water carried up the ridge, and waiting to start mopping up hot spots, firefighters groaned every time fire scanners went off signaling more woods fires breaking out across western Maine.

After clearing the scene, Bethel firefighters responded to their second woods fire at 3:29 p.m. on Skillings Road off Route 5.

Woods fires kept firefighters busy into the night.

Roxbury fire Chief Jim Theriault said his department was sent to a 4:45 p.m. brush fire caused when high winds knocked a tree down that also took down Central Maine Power power lines along Route 120 in Roxbury.

Dead softwood was burned in an area measuring 40-by-100 feet before five Roxbury firefighters and five from Andover arrived to extinguish it, Theriault said.

“CMP was Johnny-on-the-spot, because they got there three minutes after I did,” he added.

Andover firefighters were busy helping Rumford and Mexico firefighters fight a 4:25 p.m. woods fire on Franklin Annex Road in Rumford. Andover also had a crew fighting a 4:40 p.m. fire in Andover, that was caused by a downed power line.

“Andover was out on their fire, and had two crews helping Rumford, so we were very fortunate. They got there faster than we did,” Theriault said.

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