The St. John River along the Narrow Gauge in St. Francis on March 29, 2020. Credit: Courtesy of Craig Ouellette

FORT FAIRFIELD, Maine — Flood gauges are in the red flood stage for Fort Fairfield and depending on the weather, there could be a threat of flooding from the Aroostook River for most of the week, Fort Fairfield Rescue and Fire Chief Timothy Browning said.

“We have warm temperatures, melting snow, ice and a rising river,” Browning said.

The National Weather Service extended the flood advisory until 2 a.m. Tuesday for Fort Fairfield.

A sheet of ice is covering the river downstream from the Fort Fairfield bridge, threatening Russell Road near the Lane Pit area and McCrea Flats, according to the NWS advisory.

Additionally, the rising river waters threaten roadways on the Caribou and Limestone side of town with several roads closed due to flooding. North Caribou Road at Strickland Road is closed completely and also at the Caribou town line, Browning said.

 Multiple roads are closed in Fort Fairfield due to river flooding. The North Caribou Road is closed at the Fort Fairfield town line. Grimes Road is also closed in multiple locations.  Officials ask drivers to seek an alternative route between Caribou and Fort Fairfield. Credit: Courtesy of Fort Fairfield Rescue and Fire)

The NWS reported in a recent advisory that Grimes Road is closed at the Caribou and Fort Fairfield town line. Water levels continue to threaten the road near the Fort Fairfield bridge.

The following streams and drainages are also at risk: Libby Brook, Little Madawaska River, Moore Brook, Aroostook River and Amsden Brook.

“Residents who live on Murphy Road, Strickland Road or between Murphy and Strickland, will need to travel through Limestone if they need to leave their homes,” Browning said.

Crews from the fire department and public works, plus a few volunteers, are working at the pump house round-the-clock to keep the downtown area from flooding, hd said.

“We have a set of dike systems with gates that pump the water over,” he said. “The Army Corps of Engineers put that in after the downtown was leveled from flooding. It’s very unique … it’s a good system.”

In 1994, flooding devastated the town and residents were evacuated.

And while no homes are threatened at this time, Browning said with the help of county emergency personnel, homeowners in that area know it does not pose a danger to their homes, although additional rain or snow could change the conditions.

“If we get warmer weather in the day and cool in the evening, the threat could be gone later this week,” he said. “But if Mother Nature blesses us with more snow or rain, that could change.”

While some areas north of Fort Fairfield were part of an earlier NWS flood advisory, things have settled down.

The Fish River Bridge in Fort Kent on Monday, March 29, 2021. Credit: Jessica Potila / St. John Valley Times

“We are in good shape right now. Fish River is crested at 6.30 feet and is projected to descend over the next few days,” Steve Pelletier, director of planning and economic development for Fort Kent, said. “It will probably rise a bit when the lakes let go. The St. John is at 13 feet and has been since Saturday night. It is also projected to descend. Unless we get a large amount of rain we should be all set.”

St. Francis resident Craig Ouellette said that the ice broke along the St. John River near the Narrow Gauge in St. Francis on March 26, but soon jammed.

“The ice began moving again at around 6 a.m. on March 27,” he said. “In 2020, the ice didn’t run until April 7.”

In addition to the closures in Caribou and Fort Fairfield, there is a closure on the Washburn Road leading from Crouseville to Presque Isle and a partial closure on the Fletcher Road in Monticello, Aroostook Emergency Management Agency Director Darren Woods said on Monday..

“There’s an ice jam up in Grand Isle, but it’s still quite a ways from the road,” Woods said. “It’s lower than it normally would be during an ice out, but with all that said, we understand that those conditions can all change.”

The flooding and road closures are occurring in a similar pattern compared to previous years with no notable deviations, the EMA director said.

Even if a closed off road looks safe to drive over, the dirt could have been swept out from underneath the pavement, Woods said, adding that drivers should always turn around and find an alternate route.

The Fish River in downtown Fort Kent on Monday, March 29, 2021. Credit: Jessica Potila / St. John Valley Times

Additionally, Woods advised people to not walk out onto the ice.

“People shouldn’t venture out onto the ice floes, or walk onto them. We even had some jump on the ice and surf on it while the water was moving,” he said, adding that he had to send state troopers out to St. Francis to bring them back to shore.

Once in the river, chances of survival are low.

“There’s no rescue from that. At that point it’s body recovery,” Woods said.

There are no reports of threatened flooding in the Houlton area as of Monday afternoon, according to the NWS.

NWS forecasters said that water levels in ice jam areas can rise and fall quickly and warn motorists to not drive through flooded roads or around a closed road barricade.

Jessica Potila and Chris Bouchard contributed reporting to this story.

Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli

Kathleen Phalen Tomaselli is a reporter covering the Presque Isle area. Over the years, she has covered crime, investigations, health, politics and local government, writing for the Washington Post, the...