A long and wet spring blossomed into a dry and hot summer in 1947, promising a beautiful season for Mainers and tourists. However, the drying forest floor set the stage for a violent and fiery fall.
By mid-October, dry conditions and relentless winds had produced roughly 200 fires across the state of Maine, wiping out local homes, businesses and summer mansions.
The Great Bar Harbor Fire, one of the most well known of the 1947 fires, had originated near a dry cranberry bog on Oct. 17, slowly burning for several days despite efforts to extinguish the smoldering peat.
The gently smoking bog erupted into flame with the assistance of wild 60 mph winds and carved a path of destruction, heading towards the town of Bar Harbor. Leveling local homes and summer cottages alike, the fire roared to the edge of the town with the town fire bells ringing the evacuation order.
By caravanning through the flames, many drove to safety while others escaped by ship from the town pier. Only by a fortunate shift in the wind was downtown Bar Harbor spared but the new direction of the blaze continued to claim Acadia National Park land and the Jackson Laboratory, among others.
The Great Bar Harbor Fire, like the innumerable other blazes around the state and New England that fall, had forever changed the region. New fire departments were organized and a regional alliance of fire response had been formed to combat dangerous conditions. The scars of fiery ’47 can still be seen today in the colorful fall foliage as the recovering forests are still dominated by deciduous trees.
Vintage Photo/Video Credit: Bar Harbor Historical Society