Wildfires are defined as those fires that burns vegetative cover (grass, brush, timer, or slash). Some wildfires are started by lightning, but humans have become the greatest cause of fires in Maine. Wildland urban interface fires are created where homes meet with highly unstable forest fuels. The State of Maine has 17.5 million acres of woodlands used mostly for the production of paper products and lumber. While rainfall normally reduces the risk of forest fire, seasonal variations, rapidly draining soil types, and unusually dry periods can alter the risk.
Because the forests of the State represent an enormous natural and economic resource, a major forest fire would have a long-term economic impact affecting industry, causing unemployment, serious erosion, loss of wildlife and agricultural land, and significantly impacting the tourism industry. Residential areas bordering forest lands are at risk if fires cannot be controlled. Campers, vacationers, and backpackers in the woodlands are vulnerable as communication with them may not be possible and isolated access roads may be cut off.
Historically, forest fires have been considered one of the most significant hazards in the State. Improved detection and early response has helped reduce their effects.
Notable Fires in Maine
- Wildfire of 1947: The combination of unusually warm spring temperatures and damp summer months cause the snow in the woods to melt early and quickly, a warning sign for wildfire vulnerability. Because WWII had just ended, returning veterans created a post-war building boom, resulting in more sawmills and piles of slash. Beautiful warm weather finally resumed by fall, causing one of the severest droughts the State had seen. On Friday, Oct 3rd, a brush fire got out of hand that firefighters thought they put out completely. It restarted on Sunday and the sunny, dry weather continued, causing multiple fires all over the state throughout October. In one week, nine communities were wiped out and four others suffered severe damage. The fires resulted in 15 deaths, $30,000,000 in property damages and 3,000,000 feet of cut lumber that had been destroyed, as well as thousands of acres of trees.
An estimated 92% of all forest fires in Maine are man-made, either intentionally or accidentally. Therefore, public education and care in preventing forest fires is extremely important, as well as effective prosecution of arsonists. The remaining 35% of forest fires are ignited by lightning. Spotting and warning programs in effect when forest fire danger is high will enable evacuation and firefighting efforts to begin as soon as possible. Mutual aid agreements between municipal fire departments and including regional industry must be developed and maintained. The Bureau of Forestry, Division of Forest Protection, in the Department of Conservation (also known as the Maine Forest Service) has an active role in education, prevention, detection, and response to and the suppression of forest fires in the State of Maine.
* An occurrence of this hazard could possibly be initiated by a deliberate act.