ACADIA NATIONAL PARK — An incident commander joined the fire-suppression team at Acadia National Park this week, part of the park’s step-up in readiness made necessary by extremely dry conditions.
Doug Jones, fire management officer at Acadia, said Craig Scherfenberg from the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has been called in to manage the overall operation in case of fire.
“This operation is getting complex enough and time consuming enough to need an incident commander,” Jones explained. “Normally we send resources out West. This time, we’re sending for them.”
Like all national parks, Acadia can call for extra fire-suppression help from a national inter-agency resource organization. If fire should break out in the park, crews of firefighters could arrive within 24 to 48 hours from across the country.
According to Jones, the park also has contracted for a Bell 206 Jet Ranger, which is now stationed at the Hancock County Airport in Trenton.
The helicopter, owned by Joe Brigham Inc. of Concord, N.H., has been certified by the U.S. Department of the Interior for low-level reconnaissance and fire suppression. The aircraft currently makes three patrols over the park each day and extra trips when smoke is reported.
Equipped with a 150-gallon water bucket, the helicopter can dip into area ponds or lakes and help suppress a fire, Jones said.
Dry conditions were first reported in the park in May, when conditions bordered on the extreme danger level. Since June, however, the region has experienced even lower levels of precipitation, with 2.49 inches recorded for June and July. That compares with a 40-year average of 6.31 inches for the same period.
“There has been so little rain since June,” Jones said, “that the vegetation is under stress. If the low precipitation continues, things will just get worse. With fall, the trees go into dormancy and lose moisture. Their dry fuel will be added to the ground.
“One day of rain just will not erase the danger, as the plants are in a certain stage of stress so that it will be hard for them to recover,” he said.
Jones said that 98 percent of the fires in the northeast are caused by humans, with the majority of those started by cigarettes. In current conditions, a carelessly thrown cigarette or match head could start a major fire.
Smoking is now prohibited on the park’s trails and carriage roads. Campfires are only allowed in designated areas. Even those have been banned twice this week due to weather conditions.
Park visitors are reminded to check with campground rangers or the park ranger office before building a fire in a designated fire ring in either of the park’s campgrounds or picnic areas. Campfires are never permitted outside those rings.
Visitors to the park also are reminded that an automobile’s exhaust system can start a grass fire.
Working extended hours, the park’s 10-member fire management team is directing all of its efforts to patrolling the roadsides and maintaining its readiness in case of fire. Jones added that all of the divisions in the park are assisting in the effort, with trained firefighters ready in each department.
In addition, a ranger is currently stationed in the Beech Mountain Fire Tower and two more rangers have been added to Isle au Haut. Two fire trucks have been stationed on opposite sides of the park.
With long-range forecasts predicting below normal precipitation and above normal temperatures, fire danger could remain critical into the fall.