Train starts five woods fires


CANTON – Dense white and brown smoke spiraled from five fires on Sunday afternoon in woods between Route 108 and the Maine Central/Springfield Terminal rail line.

Maine Forest Service Ranger Jay Bernard said late Sunday night that a passing train sparked the fires, which burned 4.6 acres.

He said another ranger checked the stopped train in the Riley Yard at International Paper in Jay, where it was discovered that an engine part had burned off.

That’s why, he said, the blazes were railroad-caused fires.

At least one firefighter was injured and taken by Med-Care Ambulance to Rumford Hospital, Peru fire Chief Bill Hussey said.

There were unconfirmed reports that one firefighter suffered smoke inhalation, but it wasn’t clear if that firefighter was the one taken to the hospital.

Fires were named for their locations. One opposite the David Wainwright Sr. home on River Road burned two-tenths of an acre.

The largest, dubbed Wainwright 2, burned 2.2 acres; one named Cornfield and Sawdust burned 0.2 acres; a fire near the Whitney farm burned 0.3 acres; and a fire near 147 Pinewoods Road burned 1.7 acres, Bernard said.

Firefighters from Peru, Canton, Dixfield, Mexico, Rumford, Jay, Livermore and Sumner fought the blazes. Some of them had helped extinguish a woods and structure fire in Dixfield, and a small woods fire in Rumford earlier on Sunday.

At 2:10 p.m., an Oxford County dispatcher sent Peru firefighters to what was first thought to be four woods fires along the railroad tracks between River and Pinewoods roads and Route 108.

Hussey said the Wainwright 2 fire, just down from the Wainwright home, was the most difficult to fight due to steep terrain between the tracks and a gravel pit at the ridge top.

“When I got here, I saw whole trees going up,” he said.

That’s where Dixfield’s crew and other firefighters stopped the uphill, windswept charge.

“It took most of our manpower, but we had access to the top, and that worked out very good,” Hussey said.

When flames roared and crackled up the ridge, a Maine Forest Service helicopter could be seen through smoke, carrying a large bucket of water from the Androscoggin River and dumping it on fires near 147 Pinewoods Road and the Whitney farm.

By about 4 p.m., weary firefighters laid or sat on River Road, waiting for food and water to be trucked in from the Dixfield Fire Department Auxiliary.

Drinking water was carried in boxes up to firefighters dousing hot spots.

NewPage security at the Rumford paper mill was advised to shut all train traffic down on the tracks, because fire hoses were stretched across them.