Reporting Island Fires

May 22, 2012      Author : Lisa Fay Shields    Category: Community      0 Comment(s)

Fire on an Island!

It's a scary event, and one that might not make you think of the Maine Forest Service (MFS) immediately, particularly for island towns with larger populations and their own firefighters. However, the April fire on Lasell Island was an example of the type of assistance that the MFS can offer. According to Matt Gomes of the Forest

In the daytime, a Maine Forest Service helicopter with water bucket can be used to suppress an island fire. —Photo by Kate Hotchkiss Taylor

Protection Division (FPD) of the Maine Forest Service, an individual on an unoccupied or sparsely inhabited island typically calls 911 to report a fire, or on occasion mainlanders or boaters will spot flames on uninhabited islands. If the island is inhabited, the FPD confirms the report before responding and determines if

The Maine Forest Service often utilizes multiple transportation methods to get firefighters and their equipment to an island. —Photo by Kate Hotchkiss Taylor

assistance is required. However, if the island is unoccupied, the Service goes into action, assembling firefighters at the same time that they are attempting to gather further intelligence about the extent of the fire. Daylight reports engender the disposition of planes carrying firefighters and equipment as necessary. If the fire is reported after dark, the responders bring portable pumps (the size of a lawnmower engine, according to Mr. Gomes), and backpacks with 400 feet of one-and-a-half inch hose, counting on unlimited saltwater access. In the case of nighttime fires, MFS responders have been known to ask local fishermen for transportation if the Coast Guard or Marine Patrol are unavailable or not within an appropriate distance of the affected island. If, as in the Lasell Island fire, further assistance is needed during daylight hours, an MFS helicopter carrying a water bucket can assist in dousing a fire.

While unlimited saltwater is an advantage for fighting island fires, even better when a Forest Ranger can dip into accessible freshwater sources. —Photo by Kate Hotchkiss Taylor

“The MSF believes in overkill,” according to Matt Gomes. “We’d rather hit heavy and hard as opposed to not having enough manpower or equipment.”

For Lasell Island, fifteen inmates helped put out the fire. Mr. Gomes explained: “We’ve had this program in effect for twenty years. We train low-security inmates,

Firefighters monitor a portable pump on the shore of Lasell Island in firefighting efforts. —Photo by Kate Hotchkiss Taylor

screened by the prison, who are in the final portion of their incarceration and train them for a full day in early spring. Then we perform on-the-ground training later in the spring. Each contingent of five to six inmates has one guard accompany them when they respond to a fire.” Each year, the MFS trains somewhere between fifteen and thirty-five inmates, allowing them to be released from their term with some skills and training. With only fifty field rangers from Kittery to Fort Kent, this program vastly increases the capacity of the MSF to assist in fires all over Maine.

For most fire emergencies, larger inhabited islands along the coast are capable of responding with their own departments and equipment. Some island towns assist each other. Long Island, which has been independent from Portland for over a decade, recently assisted Great Diamond in putting out a house fire. “If it weren’t for Long Island, the house would have burned down,” said Betsy Weber of Great Diamond Island at a recent Maine Islands Coalition meeting. Some outer islands struggle with antiquated equipment and a dearth of population to meet their needs. This is where the Maine Forest Service can be of enormous help.

The Maine Forest Service is on call 24/7 to fight island fires: Says Matt Gomes of the Forest Protection Division, "911 is always the best way to report fires. However, 888-900-3473 is the Maine Forest Service's fire emergency number." —Photo by Kate Hotchkiss Taylor

Matt Gomes said, “911 is always the best way to report fires. However, 888-900-3473 is the Maine Forest Service’s fire emergency number.”

Given the response to Lasell Island, it’s a good number to have available.

As soon as the Lasell Island fire was reported, emergency services kicked into action, and a beautiful environment saved. —Photo by Kate Hotchkiss Taylor

~Lisa Fay Shields

—Photo by Kate Hotchkiss Taylor

Lisa has lived on North Haven for over forty years. Mostly retired from North Haven Community School, she keeps a hand in by offering elective writing courses for middle-school students. Her articles have appeared in the Island Journal, Working Waterfront, and Points East. She also writes a monthly article entitled “Around Town” for the North Haven News.

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