Thunderstorms with high wind and lightning ripped through central Maine late Tuesday afternoon and early evening, causing power outages, knocking down trees and wires and sending emergency crews scrambling.

Police dispatchers in Waterville had fielded about 50 calls by 8 p.m. from people reporting limbs and wires down, with most of those calls coming from Oakland, according to dispatcher Addie Gilman.

People also were reporting alarms going off and traffic lights out, she said.

Waterville Fire Chief David LaFountain said lightning likely was the cause of a fire that started in the back of a tractor-trailer filled with wood and debris at Pine Tree Waste Services on Airport Road.

Robert LaFleur Municipal Airport manager Randy Marshall said he was working inside the airport terminal building, along with a pilot, Jim Roberge, when they heard lightning and started to smell smoke. Both Pine Tree and the airport are located at the end of Airport Road, a dead-end road.

“It scared the you-know-what out of us,” Marshall said. “We checked the building and the runways before we saw smoke at the transfer station.”

Marshall called the Fire Department at around 6:30 p.m., he said. Then he and Roberge used fire extinguishers from the airport to try to extinguish flames coming from the back of the trailer, he said.

Pine Tree employee Dan Daylor said he heard about the fire on the radio and came to the scene. He moved the truck, which was showing heavy smoke but no flames by that time, away from the bank where it was parked to get it away from a building and some trees, he said.

The fire was extinguished by around 7:15 p.m., but LaFountain said firefighters would stay longer to make sure none of the debris in the truck reignited.

He said the Fire Department was busy Tuesday with storm-related calls and firefighters responded to other electrical fires as well as reports of trees and wires down in Clinton, Fairfield, Oakland and Waterville.

In Madison, firefighters blocked Russell Road to traffic late Tuesday afternoon after a poplar tree fell on wires and another tree dropped in the road.

Firefighter Lloyd Cole said it could be hours before Central Maine Power Co. arrived, as crews were busy responding to similar reports elsewhere. He said Madison alone had had several reports of trees down on wires, and emergency crews were responding to calls in Smithfield and Norridgewock.

“It (the Russell Road call) came through as two cars under the line, but there were no cars, which is a good thing,” Cole said at the scene.

Four homes near the downed trees were without power, he said.

Brian Curtis of Logland Forest Products, in Madison, parked his tractor-trailer loaded with logs on a hill on Russell Road, near the downed trees.

“I can’t get through,” he said. “I waited for the storm to pass before I finished loading so I didn’t get electrocuted.”

A half hour later, in Fairfield Center, the rain started again and crews were out sawing a large tree that had fallen on Routes 139 and 104, near the grange hall.

By about 8 p.m., Central Maine Power Co. was reporting 1,894 outages in Kennebec County, with 690 customers without power in Waterville; 196 in Vassalboro; 156, Oakland; 130, Winslow; 281, Clinton; 105, Sidney.

In Somerset County, 1,056 customers were without power, with 550 of those in Norridgewock; 81 in Fairfield; 273, Starks; 79, Smithfield; 18, Pittsfield; eight in Skowhegan.

Ninety-five customers were reported without power in Franklin County and three in Waldo County.

Somerset County Communications fielded about two dozen calls from people reporting limbs and wires down in places including Skowhegan, Norridgewock, Smithfield, Madison and Fairfield, according to a dispatcher.

Franklin County sheriff’s dispatcher Janet Rackliff said just before 8 p.m. that other than high winds and an earlier report of a tree down in Phillips, the thunderstorms created no major issues there.

Staff writer Rachel Ohm contributed to this report.

Amy Calder — 861-9247
acalder@centralmaine.com