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Now Is The Season for Woods Fires - Be Fire Safe

May 1, 2003

With the winter snow drifts finally leaving, our fields and woods have started to warm up and dry out. We've started to see the first of the spring's green grass and flowers, and soon the woods will be green with new growth. We have also started to see our first wildland (or woods) fires as things dry up. The warm days and strong winds we have been having the last couple of weeks here in the Lakes Region have created dangerous conditions, and the fire departments in the area have had several fires to respond to as a result.

Sebago Fire Department was toned out on Monday, April 21, 2003 to a wildland fire out of control behind homes on Murch Road. When Fire Chief Alan Greene arrived on the scene, fire was rapidly spreading up a hill through the woods toward a home. The woods were dry and there was stiff wind pushing the flames. Through the prompt efforts of firefighters from Sebago, with the assistance of mutual aid companies from Standish, Naples, and Baldwin, the fire was soon contained and extinguished with no damage to the home. Hiram and Bridgton Fire Departments provided station coverage in Sebago during the fire, also as part of mutual aid arrangements between towns.

If this summer is as dry as last year, it is possible that we will have many more wildland fires to contend with in Sebago and in other Lakes Region towns. The Sebago Fire Department has already geared up in preparation for the fire season. There are also several things that home owners can do to make their homes fire safe help prevent wildfires and to help fire fighters minimize loss of trees, property, and lives.

Fire Department Training

Sebago fire fighters regularly train to deal with wildland fires, and several have been to Wildfire Training Academy courses in Augusta and other locations. Dave Irving, from Montana Wildfire Inc and the Naples Fire Department, came to Sebago on Sunday, April 27, 2003 to teach a class in fire line building for Sebago fire fighters.

Dave Irving from Naples FD demonstrates
use of fire line hand tools

Dave talked to a group of a dozen fire fighters about fire line safety, incident command and crew organization, and the use of hand tools. The group then went to two locations in Sebago where they practiced building fire line and running the forestry pumps. Fires were lit, and the crew put their skills to use in controlling and then extinguishing the fires.

Make your home Fire Safe

The spectacular pictures that we see each year as homes in the western US are engulfed by raging wildland fires are tragic. The conditions here in Maine are generally not the same - we have rain more often in the summer, and wildland fires burning thousands of acres are infrequent. But - with a dry, hot summer, we have the potential for large and serious wildland fires in Maine. The weather conditions that led to the terrible fires of 1947 could happen any summer. There is much that each landowner can do to help reduce the potential for a wildland fire destroying their home, even homes built in the woods surrounded by trees.

Sebago fire fighters
(l-r) Jason Greene, Ken Tabor, and Danny Sciacca
practice building fire line

Take some time to look at your property, and clear a defensible space around your home and other structures. Reduce the possible fuel (brush, leaves, dead trees) that a fire could ignite. Remove branches from trees to height of 15 feet, to eliminate "ladder fuel" where a ground fire can climb into trees. Remove portions of any tree extending within 10 feet of the flue opening of any stove or chimney. If possible, space landscape vegetation so that fire cannot be carried to the structure or surrounding vegetation. Have a garden hose, rake and shovel handy in case a small fire starts, so that it can be put out while it is still small. More than one backyard fire has started from a grill during a cookout.

Obtain a burn permit before any open burning

A permit is required before burning brush or any other open fire in the Town of Sebago. Burning permits may be obtained on the day that you plan to burn, conditions permitting from the Town Clerk during regular office hours, from Deputy Fire Chief Ken Littlefield (207-787-8830), or from Naples Public Safety. Weather conditions for that day will dictate whether permits will be issued, or whether there will be any conditions attached to the burn permit (e.g. - burning allowed only after 5:00 pm).

At our training session on Sunday afternoon,
Sebago fire fighters practiced controlling
and extinguishing wildland fires

When burning brush, the landowner should have hand tools and a garden hose or other water source handy in case the wind picks up and threatens to get things out of control. The fire must be attended at all times. Burning without a burn permit, or leaving a fire unattended, can result in stiff penalties. If a fire gets away and causes a wildland or structure fire, the landowner can be assessed the cost of fire suppression.

Be fire-aware

If you smell smoke in your area or see an open burn, call 911 to report it. The fire department will investigate and handle it. The fire off Murch Road on Monday was called in by a concerned citizen. Without that call the fire could have been much larger and homes could have been destroyed.

[Note - This article was published in the Bridgton News on May 1, 2003]

Allen Crabtree

Last updated October 13, 2003

Copyright © 2003, Allen Crabtree