WINSLOW — Firefighters battled a brush fire on Morrill Road Tuesday afternoon as the Maine Forest Service maintains a high level, red flag fire warning across the state.

The fire in Winslow was one of dozens that have broken out across the state in the past three weeks as dry, volatile conditions persist in fields and woods. The combustible conditions, augmented by high wind, prompted officials to issue red flag warnings on Monday and Tuesday. A red flag warning signals when there is an elevated fire danger because of low relative humidity and wind.

Crews were called to a fire near the corner of Morrill and Abbot roads shortly before 1:30 p.m. by a passing motorist, according to Capt. Charles Theobald.

The fire started about 10 feet from the shoulder of the road and quickly spread through the carpet of dry and brittle leaves on the woods floor. It eventually spread to approximately 50 feet fronting the road and roughly the same distance into the woods. Firefighters had to douse several trees where dry branches ignited.

There are no homes near the area, and the cause of the fire was not immediately known.

“Any little spark is going to ignite with these leaves so dry right now,” Theobald said.

The Winslow Fire Department was preparing for more days of high fire risk until the ground gets a good soaking from rain, he said.

“Everyone is looking forward to the nice weather, but we really need some rain,” Theobald said.

The dry late spring conditions have contributed to serious risk of wildfires across the state.

On Monday a fire fueled by dry conditions and high wind destroyed a Solon farm house and torched acres of surrounding fields.

Other fires were reported in Bridgton, Leeds and Sanford on Tuesday. On Tuesday afternoon, a structure fire that destroyed A.D. Electric Inc., in Monmouth spread to nearby brush and woods.

The entire state has been under a class four, or “very high,” fire warning for the past two days, and conditions are unlikely to change without significant rainfall. Class four is just one step below “extreme” danger in the five-stage state warning system.

The risk of fire is likely to remain high for the rest of the week, although calmer wind will reduce some of the danger, said James Brown, of the National Weather Service in Gray. There is no significant precipitation forecast until Sunday, but afterward the region should shift into a more “active” weather pattern that will bring regular rain to the state, Brown said.

To have “bone dry” conditions in early May is unusual, he said. “To have no precipitation in the first five days of May is below normal.”

The Maine Forest Service has 54 investigators who look into outdoor fires in the state. Since January, the Forest Service has investigated 45 fires that have burned about 70 acres, according to Kent Nelson, a fire prevention specialist with the service.

Nelson estimated that 90 percent of the fires were investigated in the last three weeks. Grass and undergrowth are still waiting to “green up,” which will provide some fire prevention, Nelson said, but afternoons, when humidity is at its lowest and wind picks up creating fire-prone conditions, is the riskiest time for fires.

Most of the fires investigated by the Forest Service accidentally spread from private burns that take place without a permit, Nelson said. A permit from municipal offices or the Forest Service is required for wood, agriculture and brush fires.

Some people planning a brush fire don’t realize how hazardous dry spring conditions can be, Nelson said.

“These people usually have good intentions,” he said. “We just ask them to wait until we get some rainfall before they burn it.”

With dry conditions even mechanical sparks from a lawnmower or piece of home equipment can spark a flame, he said.

Even if rain shows up at the end of the week, it will take more than a few showers to really change the dry conditions.

“We probably need an inch of rain to get back to a class one day,” Nelson said.

Peter McGuire — 861-9239

[email protected]

Twitter: @PeteL_McGuire


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