Maine Forest Service helicopters were back at work Wednesday, dropping 250-gallon loads of water on persistent, hard-to-reach woods fires feeding on the seasonally dry conditions.

The forest rangers’ Huey helicopter made 30 water drops Tuesday on a fire in Lewiston, which burned 32 acres around a Central Maine Power Co. transmission line off College Street. On Wednesday, the Forest Service dispatched a fire suppression helicopter to Woodstock to help control a fire burning about 10 acres there in a remote logging area.

Spring may be mud season, but until new growth sprouts from grasses and undergrowth, it’s also brush fire season.

“It’s been a dry spring season, even though we get these cold spells,” said District Ranger Gregg Hesslein, one of the rangers responsible for southern Maine. “We’ve had a much more windy spring than we did last year, for instance.”

The cold snaps have kept the number of fires so far this year at 192, just short of last year’s total of 200 at the same time.

Even after rain, wind dries out the dead plant matter, making it easier to catch fire; and once a fire is burning, wind makes it spread fast.

In early spring, several brush fires started when people dumped out wood stove ashes that still had hot embers, Hesslein said. Now the concern is backyard burning without a permit.

Of the 192 brush fires in Maine this spring, which have burned 361 acres, 84 were the result of people burning debris, he said.

Most of Maine was designated a category 4 fire danger Wednesday, meaning no outdoor burning is permitted and no permits would be issued.

The state describes category 4 conditions as: “Fires start easily from all causes, and immediately after ignition, spread rapidly and increase quickly in intensity. Spot fires are a constant danger. Fires burning in light fuels may quickly develop high-intensity characteristics .”

“We are pretty much going to be in pretty high fire danger till we green up, and that’s the same every spring,” Hesslein said.

The Forest Service uses helicopter water drops to knock down a fire so ground firefighters can attack it, Hesslein said. Pilots also drop water in front of a moving fire to slow it down, he said.

Woods fires pose a special challenge for municipal departments, which focus training on responding to structure fires.

Fire officials in Lewiston summoned mutual aid from surrounding small towns that had some of the all-terrain vehicles, off-road water tankers and other wilderness fire capabilities needed to get at the fire about a mile from College Street.

Warm, sunny days eventually will lessen the fire danger.

“Just like planting a garden, the ground has to warm up before the grasses are going to start growing, pushing new growth up through the old; and that really is what will help ease the fire danger down a little bit,” Hesslein said.

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