Wildfires spreading like, well . . . 59 and counting so far in 2018, state says

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The Sabattus Fire Department helped extinguish grass fires Saturday and Sunday in Greene. On Monday, Sabattus firefighters turned their attention closer to home, dousing flames near the woods on Katherine’s Way.

Monday’s fire occurred the day after a permitted burn in Sabattus.

“My guess is it wasn’t extinguished properly,” Sabattus Chief Marc Veilleux said. “Any winds of any type is going to pick it up and blow it up into the dry stuff and get things going. ‘Tis the season.”

The month between snow melting in April and new grass growing in May is the most wildfire-prone time of year, according to the Maine Forest Service, which has so far counted 59 fires burning 56.8 acres in 2018.

“Most people think (the busiest time) is in August when things dry up, but we have most of our fires in the spring, right about now,” Forest Ranger Specialist Kent Nelson said.

Maine has averaged 500 wildfires and 483 acres burned annually over the past 10 years.

On Monday, the state’s Maine Forest Rangers’ Twitter account catalogued wildfire responses in Lamoine, Frankfort, Fairfield and Marshfield.

In Skowhegan a wind-whipped grass fire outside a planned indoor marijuana-grow operation at the former Fox Den dance hall on Middle Road ignited a pile of old tires, sending black smoke high into the sky.

On Saturday, a man trying to “smoke out” a woodchuck accidentally started a brush fire that burned nearly two acres of grass and brush at an apple orchard in Monmouth, officials said.

Nelson’s department issues the daily Wildfire Danger Report that many fire stations across the state use to gauge whether to allow burning each day. On Monday, parts of the state were either in moderate or low danger.

“Right now it’s really that dead grass that really concerns us,” Nelson said. “The fire moves very fast when it ignites something.

“We urge people to use caution when burning or even using a brush cutter or a lawn mower — you could hit a rock and then make a spark and it could light your dead grass on fire. You have to be really aware that this is kind of a volatile next couple of days.”

It will remain a concern until the state starts to “green up,” he said. “New vegetation comes up and it’s moist and green and that’s usually about a month, third week of May.”

Nelson urged homeowners cleaning up their yards to get a proper burn permit through their local fire department or online from the state at MaineBurnPermit.com.

Do not try to fight any wildfires yourself, he said, no matter how small.

“It’s very quick moving,” Nelson said. “Let the professionals take care of it.”

His other advice: Keep a 30-foot ring clear of brush around any structure. The little softwoods go up quickly.

“Softwood trees have a lot of volatile oils in the barks and in the leaves and they’re very likely to ignite compared to a hardwood,” Nelson said. “It doesn’t mean you have to live in a parking lot. You’ve just got to be smart about which ones you leave.

“The bigger trees are not as much of a danger, believe it or not. A ground fire will just kind of smolder around the trunk and keep going in the grass.”

Veilleux in Sabattus added to make sure permitted burns are “100 percent extinguished.”

He said whatever is being burned should only be considered extinguished and safe when cool to the touch.

He said it was fortunate Monday’s grass fire on Katherine’s Way only amounted to a 50-foot-by-100-foot burn that was put out quickly. He had one per-diem firefighter at the station. Litchfield, Lisbon and Lewiston each sent crews to help.

“We’re short-staffed,” Veilleux said. “The weekdays are terrible for us.”

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