Statewide drought conditions, unseasonably cool temperatures and a churning hurricane offshore made for an exceptionally high risk of wildfire throughout the state Tuesday, but conditions should improve by Wednesday.

The National Weather Service issued a fire alert Tuesday, citing dry weather and gusting winds brought by Hurricane Teddy, which hovered over the Atlantic. Hurricane Teddy’s northerly winds over New Hampshire and southern Maine created a higher than normal fire risk.

Meteorologist Chris Kimble said the relative humidity levels, or the amount of moisture in the air, should improve Wednesday lessening the risk of a wildfire starting. Winds will still be gusting, but not at the levels that blew through the state Tuesday.

“We are still concerned because there are a lot of fuels on the ground like twigs and grass,” Kimble said. The National Weather Service will evaluate fire conditions and issue any warnings it deems necessary Wednesday morning.

Lower temperatures are also adding to the danger, as chillier air means campers, hikers and hunters are more likely to have campfires as they enjoy the outdoors, said Regional Forest Ranger Jeff Currier, who is based in Old Town.

“We still have a lot of people in Maine’s back country who are hunting and camping, we have the moose hunt, we have Appalachian Trail through-hikers,” Currier said. “We anticipate we’ll be busy. Fire season ends in Maine when there’s an inch of snow on the ground.”

Already, the scant rainfall this year has put 2020 on pace to potentially exceed 1,000 wildfires, more than in any of the past 20 years, Currier said. As of Tuesday, Maine Forest Rangers counted 969 total wildfires in the state that have destroyed about 985 acres of forest. The number is a stark increase from last year’s wet and rainy summer, when there were only 356 fires, he said.

“If we crest 1,000 fires, that will be a 20-year event,” Currier said.

Humidity Tuesday afternoon was expected to fall to as low as 20 percent, and sustained winds of 10 mph to 15 mph, with gusts as high as 30 mph, combined to create hazardous conditions, according to the National Weather Service, which issues fire warnings in conjunction with forest rangers.

Another concern with the cooler weather is homeowners who begin heating with wood stoves. Every year, there are fires caused by people who dispose of ashes and embers incorrectly.

There was a red-flag warning in effect Tuesday for parts of Cumberland, York and Penobscot counties, meaning residents were not permitted to burn debris on their properties.

“These conditions combined with dry fuels and ample afternoon sunshine are expected to produce high fire danger,” the weather service said in a bulletin.

Maine has been under drought conditions for months, but temperatures are dropping quickly, leading to a bizarre double risk of both fire and frost.

A state-by-state drought monitor maintained by the University of Nebraska listed most parts of Maine as in either “moderate” or “severe” drought, with one part of Aroostook County – and a tiny sliver of Penobscot County – in “extreme” drought. The drought has lasted for months, with low rainfall through much of the summer.


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