MF 067 “Wildfire Loose” Oral History Project

Northeast Archives of Folklore and Oral History: MF 067 “Wildfire Loose” Oral History Project

Number of accessions: 37
Dates when interviews were conducted: 1976 – 1980
Time period covered: 1947
Principal interviewers: Joyce Butler
Finding aides: transcripts
Access restrictions: none
Description: The “Wildfire Loose” Collection consists of a series of interviews conducted by Joyce Butler in preparation for her book of the same title about the fires in Maine in October 1947. See Joyce Butler, Wildfire Loose: The Week Maine Burned (Various Publishers, 1978, 1987, 1997).

1219 J. Malcolm Barter, interviewed by Joyce Butler, February 7, 1977, Camden, Maine. Barter discusses the fires of October 1947, which he covered as a reporter; the scene at Cape Porpoise, Kennebunk; areas threatened by the fire; getting photographic plates to Boston; refugees from South Waterboro and the destruction there; the state pier in Portland on fire; process of reporting on the fires for the Boston Globe; economic cost of the fires to underinsured homeowners; Red Cross aid efforts; attitude of residents; and deaths resulting from the fires. Text: 27 pp. transcript. Recording: C 1744 (original) / T 1286 1 hour.

1220 Earl Bibber, interviewed by Joyce Butler, February 14, 1977, Kennebunk, Maine. Bibber talks about his experience during the fires of 1947 as a member of the Arundel Engine Company; community firefighting efforts; working on the line fighting the fire; the Kennebunkport village under threat; purchase of new equipment after the fire; feelings of firemen about their work; depletion of water supply; and towns helping neighboring towns. Text: 15 pp. transcript. Recording: C 1745 (original) / T 1287 1 hour.

1221 G. Robert Butler, interviewed by Joyce Butler, July 8, 1977, Kennebunk, Maine. Butler discusses the fires of 1947 in Biddeford, Maine; community effort to help those displaced by the fires; high school boys fighting the fires; locations he fought fire; firefighting in neighboring towns; preparations to leave; lack of awareness about fires in other parts of Maine; the woods after the fires had gone out; and learning to fight fire by experience. Transcript: 11 pp. Recording: C 1746 (original) / T 1287 1 hour.

1222 Esther W. Boynton, interviewed by Joyce Butler, March 18, 1977, Brownfield, Maine. Boynton talks about the fires of 1947 in Brownfield; the beginning of the fire and its growth; making donuts for the firefighters; her home surrounded by fire; exploding houses; generosity towards burned-out families; few human fatalities due to fires; vandalism; buildings which survived; returning to Brownfield; aid from the Red Cross; tin houses; beginning to rebuild; salvaging timber; aid from various people and companies; impact of the fires into the early 1950s; Christmas boxes from the American Legion and Guy Gannet Publishing; and bedding and furniture she got from the Red Cross. Text: 41 pp. transcript. Recording: C 1747 (original) / T 1288 – T 1289 1 ½ hours.

1223 Carolyn (Mrs. Frank) Craig, interviewed by Joyce Butler, January 24, 1977, Cape Porpoise, Maine. Craig talks about the fires of 1947 in Cape Porpoise; dry conditions that fall; approach of the fire; packing their belongings with aid from strangers; near-destruction of her home; firefighting efforts; keeping little fires from consuming homes; publicity the area received; improvements in Cape Porpoise’s communication and firefighting equipment after the fires; and planting pine trees on burnt land. Text: 17 pp. transcript. Recording: C 1748 (original) / T 1289 1 hour.

1224 Thelma (Mrs. Joseph) Burrows, interviewed by Joyce Butler, May 3, 1977, Kennebunkport, Maine. Burrows discusses the fires of 1947 in Kennebunkport; the damage done to the town; dry conditions that fall and awareness of danger; suspected arson; making donuts for firefighters; help coming from as far as Boston; need for milk to settle firefighters’ stomachs; group of women who worked to keep the firefighters fed; food donations; contributions made by local women; efforts of the Red Cross as not very helpful; minimal theft despite ample opportunity; monetary donations; aid for fire victims expecting babies; and distribution of donations after the fire. Text: 25 pp. transcript. Recording: C 1749 (original) / T 1290 1 hour.

1225 Lloyd Davis, interviewed by Joyce Butler, December 10, 1977, Alfred, Maine. David discusses the fires of 1947 in western York County; path of the fire; lack of organization among those fighting the fires; the fire in Alfred; aid going to Bar Harbor due to media attention there; controversy over setting backfires; towns that were concerned about paying the firefighting bill; importance of the wind in stopping the fire; theft during the fire; the role of those who stayed behind to save their own homes; story of a man who burned to death; and the uselessness of land after the fire. Text: 29 pp. transcript “only essential information transcribed,” plus map. Recording: C 1750 (original) / T 1291 1 hour.

1226 Kenneth Day, interviewed by Joyce Butler, November 12, 1977, East Parsonsfield, Maine. Day talks about the fires of 1947 in western York County; the day the fire started; path of the fire; how he was given authority to direct firefighting; use of backfires; a fire started by a cigarette butt; loss of wildlife; his previous firefighting experience in the northwest; importance of experience as opposed to theoretical knowledge about firefighting; white birch and poplar as first to grow after a fire; and the generosity of the community. Text: 17 pp. transcript “only essential information transcribed.” Recording: C 1751 (original) / T 1292 1 hour.

1227 Lawrence T. Dolby, interviewed by Joyce Butler, July 14, 1977, Saco, Maine. Dolby discusses the fires of 1947; his duties as State Fire Inspector; the dry conditions that fall; lack of public understanding of the situation and danger; failure to fully extinguish fires when they died down at night; his duties in 1947, particularly dealing with cases of arson; force of the fire and hot air; destructive impact of the fires; fires pulling the community together; firefighters from Boston helping; emotional impact of the fires; crown fires; improvements in firefighting technology and organization that came out of the fires of 1947; fire jumping; areas prone to fire; and spontaneous combustion. Text: 22 pp. transcript “only essential information transcribed.” Recording: C 1752 – C 1753 (original) / T 1293 – T 1294 1 hour.

1228 Frank Handlen, interviewed by Joyce Butler, September 9, 1977, Kennebunkport, Maine. Handlen discusses his experience of the 1947 wildfires in the Biddeford – Kennebunkport area; sight of the smoke; fire coming through and description of it; a man who saved his house; lack of organized firefighting; fire lingering in a bog and loss of trees; how Goose Rocks burned; and a house that was spared. Text: 9 pp. transcript. Recording: C 1754 (original) / T 1294 ½ hour.

1229 Champ and Elizabeth Gould, interviewed by Joyce Butler, June 20, 1977, South Waterboro, Maine. The Goulds talk about the fires of 1947 in the Waterboro area; dry conditions that fall but lack of concern; initial response to the fire being curiosity; use of fuel trucks to carry water; options for dealing with livestock; saving their buildings; men who were unwilling to fight the fire; lack of organization; arsonists; burning of South Waterboro; resurgence of fire from underground; what Elizabeth chose to save if they had to flee; general lack of blame for the fires; salvaging lumber and the economic loss resulting from burned timber; and Red Cross assistance in temporary housing and rebuilding. Text: 40 pp. transcript. Recording: T 1295 / C 1755 (original), C 2606 1 hour.

1230 Dr. John W. Kelley, monologue for Joyce Butler, December 13, 1976, Ithaca, New York. Kelley talks about the fires of 1947; missing two weeks of high school to work as a volunteer firefighter; firefighting in the Waterford [likely Waterboro] area; description of a crown fire; driving through fire; spending the night in a muddy pond; trying to save cottages around Little Ossipee Lake; firefighting equipment; attitude to firefighting and what it taught him about accomplishing goals; backfiring near Kezar Falls and getting food from the Salvation Army; physical endurance needed to fight fires; fires that burned underground; people working together and helping each other; and the situation seeming like the entire state was burning. Text: 20 pp. transcript. Recording: C 1756 (original) / T 1296 1 hour.

1231 Mabel Emery and Ruth Gobeil, interviewed by Joyce Butler, August 31, 1977, Kennebunk, Maine. Emery and daughter Gobeil discuss the fires of 1947 in the Biddeford-Kennebunk area; approach of the fire near their home; trying to save possessions; explosion of their house; fire at Goose Rocks and surviving it by staying in the ocean; inability to understand why their house burned when neighbors’ homes did not; Ruth’s work at a telephone switchboard during the fire; and rebuilding. Text: 14 pp. transcript “only highlights transcribed.” Recording: C 1757 (original) / T 1297 ½ hour.

1232 Esther Smith, interviewed by Joyce Butler, November 2, 1977, Waterboro, Maine. Smith talks about the fires of 1947 in Waterboro; reading of a paper she wrote for a local historical society; outbreak of fire; escape to Saco; her young daughters’ reactions to the fire; reading of another paper she wrote; dry weather conditions that autumn; firefighters and feed stations; evacuation of Waterboro; buildings which were lost to the fire; and community and Red Cross relief efforts. Text: 9 pp. transcript. Recording: C 1758 (original) / T 1297 ½ hour.

1233 Josephine Higgins, interviewed by Joyce Butler, April 21, 1977, Bar Harbor, Maine. Higgins discusses the 1947 fires in Bar Harbor; delaying evacuation; evacuation routes; fear that gas tanks would explode; and the kindness of people and the Red Cross. Text: 8 pp. transcript. Recording: C 1759 (original) / T 1298 ½ hour.

1234 Joyce Butler, reading letter to the editor of The Bar Harbor Times from Mrs. S.V. Morris of Somesville, Maine, dated October 26, 1947. Morris wrote about the fires of 1947; description of her neighborhood during the fire; mutual aid in the community; evacuation of Bar Harbor; and description of a drive around the island. Text: 5 pp. transcript. Recording: C 1759 (original) / T 1298 ½ hour.

1235 W. Charles Smith, Sr., interviewed by Joyce Butler, December 12, 1977, Saco, Maine. Smith talks about the fires of 1947 in York County; progression of the fire around Saco; attempts of homeowners to keep houses wet; fighting side fires; dead animals; areas and buildings that did not burn; talk of arson which he did not believe; and the community’s fire consciousness afterwards. Text: catalog. Recording: C 1760 (original) / T 1298 ½ hour.

1236 Dr. and Mrs. Arthur Moulton, interviewed by Joyce Butler, June 22 – 23, 1977, Newfield, Maine. The Moultons discuss the fires of 1947; feeding the firefighters; people who gave false evacuation warnings; extent of destruction on Newfield; progression of the fire; firefighting mistakes; importance of short lawns in keeping the fire at bay; heat so intense metal melted; lack of organization; backfiring not allowed, though sometimes practiced; use of a plane for observation; a man who died of smoke inhalation; firefighters retreating due to lack of air; why trying to save furniture was a bad idea; losing their lumber; installation of a free phone line; calling the National Guard to keep order; curious sightseers; the difficulty of fighting small fires, particularly in a swamp; keeping men from getting bored; logistical challenges; need to have a firefighting plan for massive fires; Arthur Moulton’s leadership role; role of the Red Cross in rebuilding; a man who chose to save his chopping block; Newfield’s fire department in 1977; and recovering timber. Text: 47 pp. transcript. Recording: C 1761 – C 1762 / T 1299 – T 1300 2 hours.

1237 Austin Wilkins interviewed by Joyce Butler, March 30, 1977, Augusta, Maine. Wilkins, Fire Control Officer with the Forest Service in 1947, discusses the wildfires of 1947; development of fire bans and woods closures in Maine; open fire dumps; attempts to educate people about the fire dangers in 1947; local phenomenon of heavy winds; cleanup in Acadia National Park; deep burning (underground) fires; 1947 as turning point for mechanization of firefighting; limiting access to fires; why there were more fires in populated parts of state; the problem of slash; money never paid for firefighting equipment and services; rumors of arson; danger of backfires; use of chemical drench; development of the Interstate Forest Fire Compact; preparations the Forest Service made prior to the major fires; receiving hoses from the Army and Navy that were incompatible; why he considered the worst fire loss to be York County; lessons learned from the 1947 fires; legacy of the CCC; and the economic impact of the fires. Text: 51 pp. transcript “only essential information transcribed.” Recording: C 1763 – C 1764 / T 1301 – T 1302.

1238 Louise and Raymond Russell, interviewed by Joyce Butler, August 8, 1977, Kennebunk, Maine. The Russells talk about the fires of 1947 in Kennebunk; distance traveled by the fire; moving their possessions out; progression of the second fire; saving Louise’s home; sense that firefighters couldn’t get ahead of the fire; and the building of farm ponds after 1947. Text: 19 pp. transcript. Recording: C 1765 / T 1302 1 hour.

1239 Coyle Meserve, interviewed by Joyce Butler, July 16, 1977, Dayton, Maine. Meserve discusses the fires of 1947 in Dayton; progression of the fire; tally of lost buildings; burning of his family’s barn and home; use of cider to save a house; aid given by the Red Cross; salvaging timber after the fire; how the town was different after rebuilding; why the forest in 1947 burned so easily; and improvements in firefighting by 1977. Text: 27 pp. transcript. Recording: C 1766 / T 1303 1 hour.

1240 Desmond O’Hara and Carl “Dick” Schmaltz, interviewed by Joyce Butler, July 20, 1977, Goose Rocks, Kennebunkport, Maine. O’Hara and Schmaltz discuss the fire of 1947 in Kennebunkport, Maine; their work with Elliot O’Hara’s (Desmond’s father) art school and studio; awareness of the fire danger; learning about the fire while out of state; neighbors who escaped flames in the water; Eliot O’Hara’s painting of Timber Island while it was still smoking; artwork lost in the fire; Elliot O’Hara’s later career; how the fire changed Goose Rocks; and the chaos that immediately followed the fires. Text: 18 pp. transcript “every word not transcribed.” Recording: C 1767 / T 1304 1 hour.

1241 Bessie Ricker, interviewed by Joyce Butler, February 24, 1978, Saco, Maine. Ricker talks about the fires of 1947 in the Saco-Waterboro area; her family’s preparations as fire neared; fire approaching from multiple directions; her fear when the fire was approaching and the car went off the road and passersby did not stop; trying to move away from the fire; listening to radio reports; her home saved by National Guard backfiring; rebuilding after the fire; and how the fire changed Waterboro. Text: 16 pp. transcript “just essential information transcribed.” Recording: C 1768 / T 1305 1 hour.

1242 Betty Littlefield and Stanley Littlefield, interviewed by Joyce Butler, August 2, 1977, Alfred, Maine. The Littlefields discuss the fire of 1947 in the Alfred area; Betty’s efforts running a moving first aid station and handing out food to firefighters; Alfred threatened from multiple directions; Stanley’s perspective as superintendent of the Water District; fleeing the fire in South Waterboro; what Betty treated at her first aid station; Stanley’s confidence in the Alfred firefighters; desire to keep fire lines short; fighting fire into November; prevalence of smoke and ashes; Indian pumps; and problem with spectators. Text: 16 pp. transcript “only essential information transcribed.” Recording: C 1769 / T 1306 1 hour.

1243 Arthur Roberts, interviewed by Joyce Butler, July 28, 1977, Saco, Maine. Roberts talks about the fires of 1947 in Lyman; his work putting out spot fires as a member of the volunteer fire department; evacuating his family; how the approaching fire looked; fire destroying a lumberyard; backfiring and a backfire that got out of control; improvements in firefighting that Roberts thinks would prevent a repeat of 1947; needing permission from the National Guard to travel freely in the fire zone; food donations; porcupines fleeing the fire; and how the fire changed Lyman. Text: transcript 21 pp. “only essential information transcribed.” Recording: C 1770 / T 1307 1 hour.

1244 Mr. Allen Salisbury and Mrs. Allen Salisbury, interviewed by Joyce Butler, April 19, 1977, Hull’s Cove, Mt. Desert Island, Maine. The Salisburys discuss the burning of Bar Harbor’s Jackson Lab during the fire of 1947; their duties at Jackson Lab; belief that Hull’s Cove was in danger, not Bar Harbor; crown fire and ground fire; Mrs. Salisbury leaving the island with their daughter; complete loss of records and mice from the lab; returning the day after the fire; cleaning up after the fire; receiving household items from various sources; looters; how Bar Harbor changed to a tourist town after the fire; and a man who burned to death trying to rescue his cat. Text: 24 pp. transcript. Recording: C 1771 / T 1308 1 hour.

1245 Dorothea Smith, interviewed by Joyce Butler, January 13, 1977, Goose Rocks Beach, Maine. Smith talks about the fire of 1947 in Goose Rocks Beach; how the fire sounded; taking refuge in a neighbor’s house; annoyance that effort was concentrated on saving a farm; thieves and looters; animals fleeing towards the water; fear that her daughter was lost when in fact she was safely asleep elsewhere; the neighbor reunited with his dog; Elliot O’Hara’s art studio losses; National Guard trying to keep sightseers and looters away; what parts of Goose Rocks Beach burned; lack of awareness that such a disaster could happen; cases of arson; what her house looked like after it burned; and the trend of insufficient insurance. Text: 23 pp. transcript. Recording: C 1772 / T 1309 1 hour.

1246 Althea Beard, interviewed by Joyce Butler, September 25, 1977, Kennebunkport, Maine. Beard talks about the fires of 1947 on Cape Porpoise; the sight and smell of smoke; scene from the top of Crow Hill; believing their summer home was destroyed; patrolling and trying to save their home; no water supply so they used buckets of ocean water; receiving sandwiches and coffee from the Salvation Army; fearing for their house again when a second fire was near; and houses being saved by people who stayed and defended their own homes. Text: 13 pp. transcript “not every word transcribed.” Recording: C 1773 / T 1310 ½ hour.

1247 Arnold Stinson, interviewed by Joyce Butler, September 14, 1977, Cape Porpoise, Maine. Stinson, with comments from his wife, discusses the fires of 1947, when he was Cape Porpoise Fire Chief; how Timber Island caught on fire; a backfire that got out of control; path of the fire; what equipment they had; finding their furniture after the fire; Mrs. Stinson’s mother dying of a heart attack from all the work; and how the Kitteredge family improved firefighting capabilities after the fire. Text: 13 pp. transcript “only essential information transcribed.” Recording: C 1773 / T 1310 ½ hour.

1248 Mr. Warren Walker and Mrs. Warren Walker, interviewed by Joyce Butler, February 16, 1977, Clark’s Mills, Hollis, Maine. The Walkers talk about the fires of 1947 in Hollis; the assumption that fire departments would take care of the fires; what the fires department had for equipment; how the fire burned; National Guard brought in to prevent looting; crediting the Navy for saving Clark’s Mills; Mr. Walker’s work directing traffic and equipment; inability to use their own house because the National Guard was in it; importance of telephone operators; a smoking rabbit; limited damage in Clark’s Mills; bills and reimbursement after the fire; problems with young men on patrol who started fires to keep warm; inaccurate media reporting; arson not as prevalent as believed; lumber mill failing due to glut of timber after fire; and the loss of timber. Text: 21 pp. transcript, plus 2 pp. additional notes. Recording: C 1774 / T 1311 1 hour.

1249 Charlotte Stewart, interviewed by Joyce Butler, April 20, 1977, Bar Harbor, Maine. Stewart discusses the fire of 1947 in Bar Harbor; reads something she wrote about the fire changing Bar Harbor; fire burning underground and reemerging; seeing the smoke from Hull’s Harbor; her daughter leading a couple to a safe place; working as a telephone operator during the fire; receiving food from a local restaurant; people fleeing to the wharf to evacuate; what kinds of phone calls she took; death of a young girl in an automobile accident; an elderly man who died of a heart attack; calling boats to evacuate the island; the telephone company receiving the Vail Award for their work during the fire; how the Bar Harbor Club changed after the fire; Bar Harbor before the fire in social makeup and physical appearance; and the charitable contributions of the wealthy summer people. Text: 24 pp. transcript. Recording: C 1775 / T 1312 1 hour.

1250 Violette Wallace and Linwood Wallace, interviewed by Joyce Butler, May 4, 1977, Bar Mills, Maine. The Wallace siblings discuss the fires of 1947 in Bar Mills; the dry conditions that fall; Violette’s work at the Bar Mills telephone exchange; evacuation and how unprepared they were to evacuate; falling leaves on fire; fire-related calls Violette took; theft of furniture; Linwood’s first aid work, paid by his employer Saco Hospital; injuries related to the fire; how the fire changed the area; misinformation promulgated over the radio; difficulty of getting past the guard to go home; the fire as the most upsetting crisis to work through; how the telephone switchboard worked; community coming together during the crisis; and the problem of sightseers. Text: 27 pp. transcript. Recording: C 1776 / T 1313 1 hour.

1251 Clayton Weymouth, interviewed by Joyce Butler, June 22, 1977, West Newfield, Maine. Weymouth, who in 1947 was Warden of Forestry Department District #1, talks about the fires of 1947; being loaned a Jeep for no cost; the Newfield fire coming from New Hampshire; fire losses in Newfield; two fatal accidents due to the fire; effectiveness of bulldozing fire breaks; making a fire truck after the fire; devaluation of land in Newfield; rebuilding after the fire; state-level improvements after the fire; men patrolling better if protecting their own property; developments in firefighting not guarantee that a similar fire will never happen; good natural reseeding of trees in Newfield area; and the equipment available in fire towers. Text: 16 pp. transcript “every word not transcribed.” Recording: C 1777 / T 1314 1 hour.

1252 Martin V. B. Wildes, interviewed by Joyce Butler, April 3, 1977, Kennebunk, Maine. Wildes discusses the fire of 1947 in Kennebunkport; progression of the fire, particularly around Cape Porpoise; speed of the destruction; description of fire as all flames and no smoke; loss of equipment due to rapid approach of fire; fighting spot fires in Wildes Town; bulldozing a trench which stopped the fire; equipment used to fight the fire; lack of communication; changes in firefighting after 1947; cases of arson; description of a creek that looked like it was on fire; lack of water in pipes for homeowners because hydrants were drawing it all; how the Army bulldozers worked; a man who accidentally left with his goats and not his family; and disbelief that the fire could be so bad. Text: 21 pp. transcript. Recording: C 1778 / T 1315 1 hour.

1253 Bernard Hawkes, interviewed by Joyce Butler, April 19, 1977, Bar Harbor, Maine. Hawkes talks about the fire of 1947 in Bar Harbor; smoke from fire on other parts of Mt. Desert Island; destruction of a hotel; path of evacuation; returning to fight the fire; why there were no preparations to evacuate with possessions; rebuilding Bar Harbor; changes after the fire; notable people who used to visit Bar Harbor and their massive homes; and how value of the losses failed to consider the expensive, irreplaceable artifacts. Text: 16 pp. transcript. Recording: C 1779 / T 1316 1 hour.

1254 Letters written by Dorothy H. Stanley and Christine Baker Rowell in 1947, read by Joyce Butler, January 1979, Bar Harbor, Maine. Stanley and Rowell wrote about the fire of 1947 in Bar Harbor; progression of the fire; wind shifts; college boys returning to fight fire; description of the fire’s appearance; evacuation; embers spreading fire; the days immediately following the fire; the start of the fire and early attempts to control it; continuation of social life during early stages of the fire; preparing to evacuate; trying to save possessions; and fleeing the fire. Text: 22 pp. transcript. Recording: C 1779 / T 1316 ½ hour.

1422 Jane Cormier Obermeyer, interviewed by Joyce Butler, October 11, 1980, Kennebunk, Maine. Obermeyer talks about the fire of 1947 in Bar Harbor, Maine; where her family’s home was; the smell of the fire; waiting to be evacuated; leaving the island by Army truck; the accident during evacuation which killed her sister; attitude of those waiting to be evacuated; and her father saving the Catholic church. Text: 19 pp. transcript. Recording: T 1550 ½ hour.