Drought Conditions Fuel Maine Wildfire

As the drought continues to impact New England, firefighters in Harpswell, Maine, say a fire that lasted days has been contained

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A coastal Maine town spent multiple days combating a wildfire spanning two to three acres, hinting at the need for rain in much of New England.

According to Chief Ben Wallace Jr. of the Cundy's Harbor Volunteer Fire Department in Harpswell, the fire within the Long Reach Preserve — a protected woodland area with nature trails — is believed to be contained. Firefighters from Harpswell and surrounding cities and towns spent the weekend carefully battling it on rugged terrain.

"We were happy we could provide transport out to that site," said Paul Plummer, harbormaster for the Town of Harpswell.

Severe drought conditions in much of Massachusetts are making an impact.

Plummer explained that his department used an airboat to bring firefighters to get emergency responders access to the woodland area that was burning.

"We knew what we were up against. I think the firefighters definitely knew what we were up against," Plummer said, noting that the same area experienced a similar but smaller fire two years ago.

The fire was disruptive enough to close trails in the preserve and was difficult to attack for long because tree roots were smoldering underground, limiting what firefighters could safely accomplish at night.

"Trees were falling down without any warning," said Wallace.

In addition to the airboat, a helicopter was also used to reduce the fire.

While town officials will assess if the fire has died more completely in the coming days, and an investigation into its cause is underway, Wallace says his biggest concern now is persistent drought conditions that exacerbated challenges over the weekend.

"We dumped thousands of gallons of water on that fire, and you'd go around and randomly turn over dust that was there and two inches down, it was dry as a bone still," he said. "We need an all-day rain event, everybody needs it."

To enhance safety and prevent other wildfires, Wallace urged people in this area and others that are similarly dry to avoid "outside fires unless you're on mineral soil" and to make sure any fires that are lit are put out "beyond certainty."

He also noted there is a shortage of volunteer firefighters, urging anyone interested to consider joining area departments to help in future emergencies.

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