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Sprucewold, Maine is heavily wooded with a combination of evergreen and deciduous trees. Situated on a peninsula, the community is made up of predominantly “vacation homes” where people live in log cabins and spend the sunnier summer days trekking or lounging in boats.

When Curt Norred moved to Sprucewold at the end of summer 2003, he noticed that while there were fire hydrants in the surrounding communities, there were none in Sprucewold. “Lack of fire hydrants lessens fire fighting capabilities in the event of a building fire spreading into the woods and threatening other structures,” said Norred, “A major wildfire could do a large amount of harm in our community so we knew we had to do something to address our concerns.”

 Spruewold Photo

He first discussed this concern with the sewer department and the water district officials and was told that installing year-round fire hydrants would be cost-ineffective. He then contacted the Maine Forest Service (MFS) and was introduced to Fire Prevention Specialist Kent Nelson. Ranger Nelson and fellow ranger Alan Hammond conducted several “risk assessments” which concluded that the Sprucewold area was a “high risk” for wildfires.

One factor that contributed to the area being “high risk” was the roads that snaked through the community. Most were either one or narrow two lanes, which sometimes ended in dead-ends. With the tapered roads and no space to turn at the end, fire trucks had a hard time transiting. This made firefighting difficult, if not impossible, for fire trucks and was also a serious concern if the community had to be evacuated due to a large wildfire.
Another safety concern centered on the homes. Most in the community are log cabins dating all the way back to the 1920’s. Over the years, the cabins have been treated with creosote and other preservatives which are toxic and highly flammable. Spruewold Photo

Another concern was the heavily wooded area in which Sprucewold in situated. Heavily wooded areas generally mean lots of fuel just waiting to be ignited. The community has an abundant supply of spruce, fir and pine trees which have relatively low braches. These branches, when dry, are highly susceptible to ground fires and can rapidly pass along the fire to other branches.

Proximity of flammable materials to structures, limited water availability and a lack of defensible space and signage are other issues outlined in the Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP).

The findings were exactly what was needed to educate the Sprucewold community of the seriousness of fires. The Sprucewold Improvement Society formed a safety committee led by Norred, which worked with the community and local officials to outline a plan to provide the highest level of protection as possible in a “high risk” community.

The first step they took was to cut the lower branches on trees within 30 feet of the cabins, thereby removing the ladder fuels and creating a “defensible zone.” Every year since the assessment, Sprucewold community members, along with the Maine Forest Service and the Firewise Board, have held Chipping Days to remove potential wildfire fuels.

Spruewold PhotoTo improve access for fire trucks, the narrow roads were repaved and a washed out bridge was removed. Signage was also posted for all roads and residences.

In December 2011, Sprucewold proudly became the second recognized “Firewise Community” in Maine. For their Firewise days, they hold “Simtable” demonstrations, fire prevention talks and fire drills. The last Firewise Day was well attended and included a discussion about the responsibility of the homeowner to clear brush and maintain adequate defensible space around their homes. In the past, the Firewise Board has also worked with the Boothbay Harbor Fire Department to develop an evacuation plan. They continue to work with town officials to get a municipal water supply and fire hydrants to all the residents on the peninsula.

Sprucewold was a runner up in NFPA’s Firewise Challenge and was awarded $900 to use on safety gear, tools or mitigation projects. Community members are still discussing how to use the generous award and are considering hazardous fuels removal in a high risk area within Sprucewold.