LEWISTON — While Maine endured the first day of a predicted four-day cold streak Tuesday, John Russell said he knows what that cold feels like.

With an outside temperature of 9 degrees, the Peru man worked as part of a flagging crew off Exit 80, controlling traffic with “stop” and “slow” signs. It was frigid work — a long day of standing outside.

“I wear layers and layers,” Russell said. “I’ve got four layers on the bottom, six on the top.”

Over his legs, he wore long johns, sweatpants, pants and ski pants. Up top, he wore long johns, a T-shirt, multiple sweatshirts and a jacket. Russell protected his hands with two pairs of gloves and hand warmers. On his head, he wore a partial face mask, helmet liners and a helmet.

“And I’m cold,” Russell said.

When the weather gets this cold, Russell said he works two hours straight outside in the morning, gets a break to warm up, then goes back out for an hour at a time with breaks in between.

On Tuesday, his relief was provided by Jeremy Poisson of Auburn, who also wore lots of clothing. “Today is pretty bad,” Poisson said. “You definitely want to wear layers.”

The forecasts are calling for bitter cold every day this week until Saturday. “The cold will be with us for a while,” National Weather Service meteorologist James Brown said. At night, lows will be zero to below zero, daytime highs in the single digits or teens.

Friday morning is expected to be the worst, with temperatures from 5 below zero on the coast to 15 below inland. The cold streak is expected to end on Saturday, when daytime temperatures should climb to the 30s.

Tuesday’s cold meant some youngsters didn’t go outside for recess.

Lewiston’s Farwell Elementary School Principal Althea Walker said her staff checks the forecast and the wind chill. If the wind chill is zero or below, recess is inside.

“We checked today and the wind chill was below zero,” Walker said. “We kept them in.”

Montello Elementary students also spent recess indoors, Lewiston Superintendent Bill Webster said. Whether students go outside is determined by each principal, he said. Often, too many students are sent to school without jackets, gloves, hats and boots that are warm enough, Webster said.

So far, this winter’s weather of alternating warm and cold weather “will mean a bumper crop of potholes,” said David Jones, director of Lewiston Public Works. “We’ve already started addressing them.”

Above-average temperatures with rain or melting show, followed by freezing temperatures, means water gets under roads, freezes, “then expands and pops up the asphalt,” Jones said.

The cold is hard on crews, equipment and infrastructure, said Jones, who hopes to get through the week without any underground pipes breaking.

On Tuesday there were no reports of water main breaks in the city, Jones said. He was keeping his fingers crossed, recalling a big water main break on Sabattus Street a few years ago. It means shutting off water as crews dig down to the water main, identify and repair the problem.

“One night it was 15 degrees below,” Jones said. “You’re down there where it’s wet and cold. It’s the worst of all worlds.”

Flagger Russell takes the cold in stride. When asked if he’s hoping for warmer temperatures soon, he smiled and said it didn’t matter.

“This is what we do.”

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AUGUSTA — Maine’s second streak of subfreezing temperatures this year means a shortage of firewood for wood stove owners.

And it’s keeping firefighters busy.

State Fire Marshal Joseph Thomas said Tuesday that since Jan. 1, “this agency has investigated 66 fires” all over Maine.

The heating season is also fire season, which gets worse with extreme cold, he said.

Common causes of fires this year include chimneys not cleaned, space heaters too close to curtains or bedspreads, and electrical fires caused by overused wires that overheat.

One energy conservation habit that worries Thomas is covering windows with plastic on the inside. If there’s a fire and a person needs to get out immediately, that plastic can prevent escape, Thomas said.

Plastic on the outside, however, will conserve energy and allow egress. If a chair is thrown against the glass with plastic on the outside, the glass will break and tear the plastic, Thomas said.

He also recommended all doors be cleared of clutter and snow, allowing escape.

“You drive down the road and see a house with the back stairs all shoveled, but the front steps not shoveled off, and the snow is banking up the front door,” Thomas said. “If somebody had to get out, they’d never get out that front door.”


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