DEDHAM, Maine — A resident kept fire officials busy over the weekend by felling trees onto live power lines on Saturday and then letting a permitted burning brush pile get out of control on Sunday, according to officials.
Ranger John Cousins of the Maine Forest Service said Tuesday that 49-year-old Christopher A. Hamilton has been charged with failure to kindle a fire in a prudent manner because he did not have a second person helping to tend his permitted brush fire and did not have an adequate water supply on hand. Cousins said the charge is a Class E crime, which is punishable by up to six months incarceration and a $1,000 fine, and Hamilton is due to appear in court in Ellsworth on July 19.
According to Dedham Fire Chief Craig Shane, the fire on Sunday burned an area about 50 feet square.
The day before the brush pile fire, the local Fire Department was paged out twice to the same man’s property, once after he cut a tree that landed on power lines and again a couple of hours later after he cut another tree that fell and pulled down utility lines, the fire chief said Tuesday.
About 91 people were without power from late Saturday afternoon until the early morning hours Sunday as a result of the incident, Emera spokesman Bob Potts said Tuesday.
According to an incident summary released Tuesday by the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department, the Chestnut Road resident was intoxicated while he was cutting trees on Saturday.
The fire chief declined to identify the man by name but confirmed that he went to Hamilton’s property around 4:30 p.m. Saturday, after a passer-by reported the first tree landing on the power lines, and talked to him about what he was doing.
After the initial discussion, Hamilton allegedly continued to cut brush on his land and, a little while later, decided to cut another large tree.
Shane said he was not far away, sitting in his parked truck, when the second tree fell out toward the road, snapping three utility poles and taking the electricity, telephone and cable lines down to the ground. The fallen power lines sparked, causing a small woods fire by the side of the road, the fire chief said.
Shane said he called Emera at that point, and he also decided to call the Sheriff’s Department to help him manage the situation. The fire chief said the man was not acting belligerent but was upset at what he felt was his “bad luck” concerning the direction that the trees fell.
“I was a little concerned,” he said.
Shane added that the telephone and cable lines were still on the ground Tuesday morning.
Lt. Chris Thornton of the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department said Tuesday that the Chestnut Road resident is not expected to face any criminal charges related to the incident on Saturday that resulted in the power outage. He declined to identify the man by name because he is not being charged by the Sheriff’s Department.
Thornton said the property owner was cooperative with law enforcement and responding Emera line crews and that nothing about his behavior indicated that the trouble he caused was deliberate.
Plus, Thornton added, there is a good chance he will be charged a “hefty” bill for the repairs by Emera.
Potts said that when a Emera line crew arrived Saturday, they found “quite a mess” in the road.
“I am told the tree he was working on was huge,” Potts said.
It took the crew two hours to clean up the debris, replace two poles, and make short-term repairs to a third pole that likely will be replaced later, Potts said.
He said Emera will trim tree branches that start to impinge on power lines, but that it is up to private landowners to remove trees on their properties. But, he added, landowners are encouraged to consult with a professional arborist or tree removal service when felling trees near power lines.
“Alway err on the side of caution,” he said.
Potts said Emera has sought repayment in other incidents where power poles or lines have been damaged by someone else, but it has not made any such decision about whether it may do so in this case.