Oct. 21, 1947: Strong wind fans the flames of fires already burning for three days on Mount Desert Island, boosting the area burned from about 169 acres to more than 2,000. On the afternoon of the next day, the wind changes and pushes the fire directly toward Bar Harbor.

It travels 6 miles in less than three hours, destroying 67 majestic summer cottages on Millionaires Row; they never are replaced. Five hotels and 170 permanent homes also are destroyed.

Heading in other directions, the fire also destroys the Jackson Laboratory. About 400 people flee on boats before the roads, blocked by fire, can be opened again. When the fire is declared under control on Oct. 27, the total area burned on the island comprises 17,188 acres, including more than 10,000 on Cadillac Mountain and elsewhere in Acadia National Park. Property damage exceeds $23 million – equal to about in $267 million in 2019.

The island’s blazes are part of the wave of fires that sweep over southern and eastern Maine in 1947, “the year Maine burned.” Among other results, the fires change the composition of the forest on Mount Desert Island. It eradicates mature stands of spruce and fir. Birch, aspen and oak trees take their place, giving Acadia National Park a palette of fall foliage colors that it did not display earlier.

Motels and other businesses catering to short-term tourists replace the summer cottages of the wealthy, but probably the latter would have disappeared even without the fire. That aspect of Bar Harbor life had been in decline since the 1890s, and many of the grand homes were demolished before the fire struck.

Joseph Owen is an author, retired newspaper editor and board member of the Kennebec Historical Society. Owen’s book, “This Day in Maine,” can be ordered at islandportpress.com. To get a signed copy use promo code signedbyjoe at checkout. Joe can be contacted at: [email protected]

 


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