Fighting fire with fire: As Maine warms up, prescribed burns become more necessary

Firefighter is at a controlled burn at the Wells Barren Preserve in Maine.

Fire boss John Bailey with the Nature Conservancy at a controlled burn at the Wells Barren Preserve in Maine. (Susan Sharon/Maine Public)

When it comes to raging wildfires, Maine is no California. As the most heavily forested state in the country, Maine’s climate is wetter. California is warmer and drier. There’s more lightning and more wind in the Golden State.

But Maine’s changing climate is increasing the possibility of more and bigger fires — and now, like in California, prescribed burns are being used in York County as a fire management tool.

Last year, Maine had more than 1,100 fires, the highest number in 35 years. Most of them were under half an acre in size — nothing like the massive 1825 Mirimichi fire that began in New Brunswick, jumped a river and blackened more than three million acres, including 800,000 in Maine. Or the fires in Oct. 1947, that dominated state and national news.

For months, Maine had experienced record-breaking warm temperatures and drought. Firefighters battled 200 separate fires across the state. In York County alone, flames swept across more than 100,000 acres, entire towns were evacuated and hundreds of homes and businesses were gutted.

The fires burned so furiously that desperate residents raced into the ocean to save themselves.

For the rest of the story, including audio, please visit This story is part of Maine Public’s new series “Climate Driven: A deep dive into Maine’s response, one county at a time.