Rain that fell heavily Wednesday in parts of central Maine is not expected to provide relief from ongoing drought conditions that have left gardens dry and officials concerned about the risk of forest fires going into the Fourth of July holiday.

Augusta got nearly an inch of rain Wednesday. However, conditions were so dry the recent rain isn’t expected to ease what National Weather Service officials said is a drought. With much of the rain coming in downpours from thunderstorms, the ground failed to absorb it.

“I don’t think it’s going to make a huge difference,” said Eric Schwibs, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service. “It was so torrential. A lot of it just runs off. The big thing is this winter we didn’t have a lot of snowpack to melt and soak the ground. That’s why it got as dry as it did.”

So far this year Augusta has received 15.81 inches of precipitation, 3.43 inches below normal, and 2.24 inches in June, 1.32 inches less than normal, according to National Weather Service data collected at the Augusta State Airport.

Augusta received 2.72 inches of precipitation in April, 1.07 inches less than normal, and just 1.48 inches in May, 2.21 inches less than normal.

The recent rain did lower the Maine Forest Service’s fire danger level rating for now, in Augusta dropping it from class 3, high fire danger, earlier this week to class 1, low, on Wednesday afternoon. But with little to no rain in the forecast, that lower danger rating may not last as the ground dries out leading into the holiday weekend, a time when campfires are popular.

“When it gets to be fairly dry like it was earlier this week, you need at least an inch of soaking rain to lower the fire danger for more than just a day,” Kent Nelson, forest ranger specialist for the Maine Forest Service, said Wednesday. “What we got today, I anticipate, may keep things at bay for a couple of days. But with the Fourth of July holiday weekend coming up, we’re a little concerned and urge that people use caution with all outdoor fires.”

Schwibs suggested those looking to have an outdoor fire over the holiday check the fire danger report which is updated daily on a Maine Forest Service’s web page. He also said people need to make sure their fires are completely out.

Factors used to set each day’s fire danger rating include measurements of the moisture in forest fuels such as sticks, leaves and needles on the forest floor, how long it has been since the last precipitation, and the weather forecast.

“We welcome the rain but don’t want people to think we’re out of the woods yet,” Nelson said.

Nelson also said thunderstorms can lead to lightning strikes in the woods, which may smolder at first before turning into a fire, and not be visible until days after the strike. Lighting caused a blaze on Mount Abraham that firefighters and forest rangers fought all weekend and into this week.

He said if people see fire or smoke in a location where it doesn’t seem right, they should call the forest service at 800-750-9777, or the local fire department.

The dry conditions have challenged many of Maine’s farmers, slowing the growth of their crops and requiring some to do additional watering or take other measures to deal with the dryness.

“It has been dry, but I haven’t been losing sleep,” said Mary Perry, owner of Winterberry Farm in Belgrade. “It slowed things up a bit. It has been a challenge.”

Perry, however, is not one to worry.

She said the soil warmed up earlier this year, allowing for an earlier start. However, with the dry spell, the early start hasn’t resulted in earlier crop development.

“We were able to get seeds in and they germinated nice and early, but then they just sat there,” she said. “The way I look at this farming thing is, the green beans might be running behind, sitting there waiting, but other things are coming along. It balances it out. There is no time frame in farming. Everything balances out.”

Perry said she was happy to hear the “beautiful rain” come overnight into Wednesday.

“I’m excited about what the rain will do and all the stuff growing,” she said.

Kevin Leavitt, owner of Farmer Kev’s Organic, which has fields in West Gardiner and Winthrop, agreed it has been dryer than normal but said it may have been more of a help than a hindrance to his farming operations.

“We had that monthlong period, a few weeks ago, when it seems like it didn’t rain, which made me nervous,” Leavitt said. “But for us, it has actually been kind of good. Where we are now, we have clay soils that are not well-draining, so we usually run into having waterlogged soils. Since it has been dry, that’s helped.”

He said they generally do raised garden beds to drain the soil better, but with this year’s lack of rain, they haven’t needed to raise the beds to aid draining.

A flash flood watch was in place until 8 p.m. Wednesday for parts of Maine including Somerset County and northern Franklin and Oxford counties.

Flooding was reported in Jackman, on U.S. Route 201.

The weather forecast for the Augusta area, according to Schwibs, includes sunshine and highs in the lower 80s Thursday, mostly sunny with a chance of afternoon showers or thunderstorms Friday, party sunny with a 50 percent chance of showers Saturday, and partly cloudy with highs in the upper 70s Sunday and Monday.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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