By Kevin Miller
The Bangor Daily News
ELLSWORTH, Maine — All of coastal Maine and a large swath of the state's interior are under a red flag warning on Thursday due to weather conditions that have already contributed to several wildfires, including a tough-to-reach fire in the western mountains.
The National Weather Service, in collaboration with the Maine Forest Service, has issued the red flag warning until 7 or 8 p.m., depending on the location, for most of the southern half of the state. A warning has also been issued for parts of New Hampshire and Massachusetts.
A red flag warning means that the combination of strong winds, warmer temperatures and low humidity likely create "explosive fire growth potential" for the affected areas.
"Under red flag conditions, it is ill advised to do any type of outdoor burning, be it a campfire or a brush fire," said Lt. Jeff Currier with the Maine Forest Service. Currier added that, even with a locally issued burn permit, individuals who start fires during unsafe conditions can be held liable or prosecuted if the fires get out of control.
On Thursday, firefighters were struggling to reach a small but challenging fire in a mountainous area off of Route 2 in Gilead. Local firefighters and forest rangers have to traverse terrain that includes steep ledges on the side of the mountain to reach the 5-acre fire, which began Wednesday.
"It's not a very big fire by any means but it is very problematic because of where it is located," Currier said. "It is very rugged terrain and we have to factor in the risks of putting people in there."
The Forest Service has also been using one of the agency's helicopters to drop water on the fire, which is helping to contain it, according to the Department of Conservation.
The Forest Service reported about a dozen fires in the state on Wednesday, with most of those located in coastal and southern Maine. Currier said there have been relatively few fires reported so far on Thursday but that will likely change as winds pick up around the state. Winds were already gusting in excess of 30 mph in Portland and were increasing in Down East Maine.
Copyright 2012 Bangor Daily News