A man trying to “smoke out” a woodchuck accidentally started a brush fire that burned nearly 2 acres of grass and brush at an apple orchard Saturday, officials said.

The fire, which was extinguished by Monmouth firefighters, was on Norris Hill Road, at an orchard owned by Cooper Farms.

Ed Pollard, an assistant fire chief in Monmouth, said an orchard employee from Jamaica, Ivan Campbell, told authorities the fire started after his attempt to remove a woodchuck from a hole in the ground went wrong Saturday afternoon.

“He was out pruning in the orchard and he saw (the) woodchuck, and decided he was going to smoke him out of that hole,” Pollard said.

Cooper Farms Holding’s 120-acre property on Norris Hill Road, which includes fields, orchards and a food processing building, is valued by the town for tax purposes at just under $1.5 million.

A phone number listed for the Norris Hill Road address of the orchard has been disconnected, so the orchard owners could not be reached for comment Monday.

The man, who did not have a burning permit, lit some grass and stuffed it down into the woodchuck hole. The fire spread and was pushed down into the orchard, Pollard said.

Pollard said he was left shaking his head when the man told him how the fire started. He said he wasn’t sure what the man’s plans were, if and when the woodchuck came out of the hole.

“That’s not the way to get rid of a woodchuck,” he said. “I’ve been doing this 40 years. This is the first time I’ve heard of someone starting a fire by trying to smoke out a woodchuck.”

He said he was unsure whether the woodchuck was harmed or scared off by the fire.

Firefighters were at the Norris Hill Road scene for about an hour and a half. Pollard said the fire was knocked down quickly but firefighters remained on the scene to soak the area down to make sure the fire was fully extinguished in the ground. He said orchard trees did not appear to be damaged as the fire only burned grass and brush.

Wales and Leeds firefighters also responded to the fire.

The Maine Forest Service investigated the cause of the fire and determined someone trying to “smoke out a woodchuck in its hole” caught the grass on fire, according to a Sunday Maine Forest Ranger’s Facebook post.

A ranger couldn’t immediately be reached for comment Monday.

“Can’t Make This Stuff Up,” the forest rangers posted atop a short description of the fire.

Pollard said he wasn’t sure whether the ranger who investigated the incident filed charges due to the fire. He said it was an accident and the man seemed pretty shaken up by what happened.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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