Unseasonably warm weather last month gave Maine an early spring, and an early fire season.

“We’ve had some very peculiar weather patterns,” said Lt. Jeffrey Currier, a ranger with the Maine Forest Service. “It’s not unheard of to have fires in March, but we had to be ready a little earlier this year.”

Since the first week of March, firefighters across the state have battled nearly 50 wildfires. Although the risk for fires is predicted to be moderate today, the danger still exists and is expected to be high on Thursday for nearly all of the state.

This week alone, firefighters fought more than a dozen blazes throughout the state, including several in central Maine, Currier said.

In Clinton, Maine Forest Service Rangers and the fire department responded Monday night to a wildfire off Route 100, Currier said. The fire burned about six acres of grass and brush before it was extinguished an hour later. The cause of the blaze is still under investigation, but three juveniles have been questioned.

“Whether it was accidental or intentional, we’re not quite there yet,” he said.

Firefighters in Gardiner and Readfield were called to extinguish wildfires Tuesday while firefighters in Augusta have dealt with two brush fires in recent days.

“This is typically the worst time of year until stuff starts to green up,” said Augusta Fire Battalion Chief Daniel Guimond.

Guimond’s department was called to 648 West River Road around 3 p.m. Saturday after a permitted burn went out of control. The fire, which took about 90 minutes to extinguish, burned about an acre of field. Forest Rangers and Sidney firefighters help Augusta douse the blaze, Guimond said. The homeowner was cited for not controlling his burn, he said.

Augusta firefighters responded to a second brush fire around 7:30 p.m., Tuesday when someone living at 12 Crosby St. dumped coals from a charcoal grill near a pile of brush. Firefighters extinguished the fire in a matter of moments.

The embers had been sitting for 24 hours before they were dumped, Guimond said. This time of year ashes need to cool in a metal container for days, or be flooded with water, before they can be dumped on the ground, Guimond said. Even then homeowners must be cautious.

“They have to really make sure it’s out,” Guimond said. “Stuff is dry and today it’s windy. It’s a combination of things.”

Augusta issued no burn permits Tuesday, he said. The department checks the state’s fire danger map every morning to determine whether to allow people to burn.

“If it’s a high three we don’t give any permits, especially with wind like we’ve had today,” Guimond said.

Currier said Maine has two fire seasons. The first season typically runs from April through May. Then, in June, as leaves and grasses grow, the fire danger subsides. In July, fire danger creeps up again and lasts through October.

The spring fire season has less potential for widespread damage, but it’s more volatile, Currier said. Wooded areas typically remain wet through the spring, so the fire danger is mostly confined to grass and brush — areas that dry out quickly. But, spring wildfires can break out one day after rainfall, whereas summer fires usually don’t start less than 10 days after rain.

In the spring, he said, “one day of good wind and direct sunlight — even after a day of fairly steady rain, we’re having fires.”

Currier said the forest service draws data from 12 weather stations across the state twice a day. The information is fed into a computer that calculates fire ratings from low, moderate, high, very high to extreme. The calculations also estimate how quickly a fire would spread, by number of feet per hour.

“We don’t want the public to think we’re looking out the window and pulling these (ratings) out of a hat. We actually have scientific data to go with it,” he said.

Staff writer Craig Crosby contributed to this report.

Ben McCanna — 861-9239

[email protected]

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