2016-04-16 / Front Page

7-alarm fire in Old Orchard Beach

Strong winds whip flames up to 30 feet high, cause evacuations
By LIZ GOTTHELF
Staff Writer


A firefighter works to put out a grass fire in Old Orchard Beach on Friday. 
LIZ GOTTHELF/Journal Tribune A firefighter works to put out a grass fire in Old Orchard Beach on Friday. LIZ GOTTHELF/Journal Tribune OLD ORCHARD BEACH — Residences and buildings on Walnut Street and East Grand Avenue were evacuated temporarily Friday afternoon as a seven-alarm fire swept through dune grass in an open marsh area.

The fire was reported around 3 p.m. and spread over almost 30 acres, said Old Orchard Beach Fire Chief Ricky Plummer. Old Orchard Beach firefighters were assisted by crews from surrounding communities and a Maine Fire Service helicopter, which dropped water on the site from the air.

It took about two hours to put out the blaze. Authorities say the wind-whipped brush fire reached heights of up to 30 feet and came within 100 feet of one condominium complex.

“The winds were unbelievable,” said Plummer. “The fire was going past us like a freight train.”

No buildings were damaged, and no one was injured, Plummer said. The cause of the fire had

See OOB Fire not been determined as of Friday evening.

Because of the size of the area and how rapidly the fire spread, nearby buildings, including the Davenport by the Sea condominium complex on Walnut Street, were temporarily evacuated as a precautionary measure, said Plummer.

Davenport by the Sea resident Dan Costin said he was in his upstairs office when he looked out, saw smoke and flames in the nearby dune grass, and called 911.

“To see how that danced across the marsh was something else,” said Costin. “It was pretty scary.”

Smoke from the fire could be seen as far away as Interstate 95, and debris and smoke permeated the air several blocks away from the blaze.

Friday’s brush fire was the second in as many days in Old Orchard Beach.

On Thursday afternoon, a fire spread over a five-acre open area consisting mostly of bamboo off the School Street Extension, endangering homes in the area. Firefighters extinguished that blaze in about an hour and a half, and no structures were damaged.

The National Weather Service in Gray issued a fire weather watch on Friday, which will remain into effect until Sunday. The combination of very dry air and moderate winds in the area could lead to “dangerous fire growth potential,” reaching critical mass Saturday morning to Saturday afternoon, the National Weather Service stated.

The watch covers western coastal Maine and southeast New Hampshire.

— Staff Writer Liz Gotthelf can be contacted at 282-1535, ext. 325 or egotthelf@journaltribune.com. The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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