Fire chiefs: Fireworks, burning, drought don’t mix

Mon, 08/15/2022 - 7:00pm

    Fire chiefs from the peninsula’s four towns have expressed concern about the use of fireworks or outdoor burning in this drought.

    “Over the years, there have been a lot of fireworks being shot off, and we’ve been fortunate that we haven’t had a problem but it’s a big concern,” said Gerry Gamage, Southport’s fire chief.

    In Boothbay, the concern became a reality last month when fireworks caused two fires in two days. One of the fires required mutual aid from Southport, Edgecomb and Boothbay Harbor.

    “It was carelessness,” Boothbay Fire Chief Dick Spofford said.  He estimated the first fire on July 3 burned about an acre of woods and was caused by fireworks set off from the house next door. Spofford said it took a couple of hours to extinguish because debris in the woods made access hard.

    On July 4, fireworks set off from a dock in Boothbay caused the second fire in as many days. Spofford said the owners of the property left the dock after setting off fireworks and didn’t realize an ember caused it to catch fire. A neighbor called the emergency in.

    In Boothbay Harbor, Fire Chief Nick Upham asked people to make sure fireworks are permitted where they intend to use them. Although Maine permits fireworks, each town has its own laws regulating them.

    While under the right circumstances they are permitted in Boothbay, Southport and Edgecomb, no personal use of fireworks is permitted in Boothbay Harbor. “Go online and make sure you are reading the fireworks ordinances for the town you are in,” he said. He added, visitors may not realize each of the towns has different regulations.

    “Even though the fire danger report says ‘low to moderate’ everything is still so dry,” he added. Upham said it has been over a month since he has issued any burn permits. “It’s not safe right now to have any outdoor burning, including fireworks.” He said the biggest concern is the inability to control where the fireworks go after they are shot off.

    Gamage said he hasn’t issued a burn permit for two months. He will inspect fire pits for Southport residents and issue a permit if it is safe. But for right now, “Outdoor burning is out.” In Boothbay, Spofford is not issuing burn permits either.

    Roy Potter, Edgecomb’s fire chief, said he has stopped issuing burn permits and is taking it day by day. “With conditions as dry as they are, everyone should use extreme caution and reconsider fireworks or burning outside until we get some more rain.”

    All of the fire departments on the peninsula are staffed by dedicated volunteers who respond as quickly as possible. Along with Southport and Boothbay Harbor, Edgecomb responded to offer mutual aid for the Boothbay woods fire on July 3.

    As Potter explained, due to the mutual aid agreements, a fire caused by outdoor burning or fireworks in one town, “takes resources away that could be used on another call.”

    Residents should contact their local fire department to check on conditions. But as Upham said, “Don’t be burning things outside and don’t be setting off fireworks until we have some significant reprieve from the drought.”

    “Common sense goes a long way,” said Spofford.