Lobster boats ferried firefighters to island

Planning paid off to quench fire on Whitehead island

By Stephen Betts | Oct 18, 2017
Courtesy of: Whitehead Island Light This outbuilding on Whitehead Island was destroyed Oct. 17 in a fire.

South Thomaston — The training and efforts of 25 volunteer firefighters from South Thomaston, St. George and Thomaston paid off Tuesday night, Oct. 17, when they were able to stop a fire on Whitehead Island, where a historic lighthouse is located.

"It went like clockwork," South Thomaston Fire Chief Bryan Caldwerwood said.

One out building was destroyed and the fire had spread into the woods and grass, but the lighthouse and other buildings were spared.

Calderwood got the call shortly after 8:30 p.m. that a building was on fire on Whitehead Island, which is about two miles south of Spruce Head Island. When the chief arrived at McLoon's Wharf on Spruce Head Island, he could see a building on fire, but because of distance and darkness he could not tell which building.

Crews converged at the wharf at Spruce Head Fishermen's Cooperative and South Thomaston Fire Lt. Alan Knowlton used his lobster boat to carry the first nine firefighters and portable firefighting equipment such as hoses, tools and air packs over to Whitehead Island.

The trip took about 15 minutes in rough seas due to wind, the chief said.

He said it was fortunate that it was high tide, because it made it easier to lug the equipment up the gangway at the single wharf on Whitehead. He said it was a fairly long walk from the wharf to where the fire was.

The island is largely woods and brush and conditions are very dry, Calderwood said.

The son of a department captain, Eric Harjula, took another six to seven firefighters and equipment over to the island.

That marine shuttle continued during the night.

"They did a heck of a job," Calderwood said about the crews.

He said the departments have trained for the possibility of a fire out there. He said it appears an electrical problem at the out building sparked the fire.

The Maine Marine Patrol also assisted, the chief said.

There was no one on the island that night, but it is frequently used.

The original light station was erected in 1803. The current lighthouse keeper house was built in 1891. The lighthouse became automated in 1982.

Pine Island Camp, a nonprofit with a 40-year history of stewardship on Whitehead Island, applied for and was granted ownership of the Light Station by the U.S. Coast Guard in 1997, according to its website. The Coast Guard maintains the light.

Pine Island Camp renovated the keeper's house and other light station structures, which are now available to rent. The owners also offer programs about the life of a light keeper. The organization purchased property on the mainland at Emery's Wharf to serve as a parking area and debarkation point for programs at the light station.

Island manager Gigi Lirot said enrichment programs for adults on a variety of topics are offered.

Calderwood said crews left the island around 1:30 a.m. Wednesday and left the South Thomaston station about 3 a.m.

"Then they all got up this morning and went to work," he said.

One firefighter suffered a minor cut, but otherwise no one was injured, he said.

Comments (3)
Posted by: Lynne A Barnard | Oct 19, 2017 07:00

This is a wonderful story...and so well told.  It is a real thriller...you can feel the rough seas and the dark and then the difficulty of hauling all that firefighting equipment to the site of the fire.  And, except for that beautiful little out building being a total loss, there were no injuries to the brave firefighters and lobster boat owners who all went back to their regular jobs the next morning.  This is the true Maine.  The photos that accompany the story are gorgeous.  Thank you Mr. Betts.

Posted by: Richard McKusic, Sr. | Oct 18, 2017 18:17

Yes, God bless our firefighters. Very informative and encouraging story, Mr. Betts.

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Posted by: Mary A McKeever | Oct 18, 2017 15:52

God Bless our fire fighters!

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