How to Reduce the Danger of Wildfires

Highlights of the On-Site “Defensible Space” Demonstration

On June 2, about a dozen TPA members gathered on Taywood Rd. for a demonstration of how to mitigate the danger of wildfires around our properties. The demo was led by Forest Ranger Kent Nelson. Also attending and adding their expertise were Auburn Fire Chief Robert Chase, Fire Prevention Officer David O’Connell, and EMT Director Brad Chicoine. All who attended were in agreement that we learned a lot of useful information. Here are a few highlights:

  • Make sure that your street number is clearly visible from both directions.
  • Keep your roof clear of pine needles and debris; clean out gutters regularly.
  • Create defensible space (clear area free of flammable material), as much as possible, within 30 feet of your home. Any flammable vegetation, brush piles, firewood, wood chips, etc. should be moved away from your structure.
  • Care for your lawn and keep it moist.
  • Avoid having an easy path for a fire to spread between properties, such as connecting hedges or wooden fences.
  • Trim low-hanging branches (called ladder fuels) at least 10 feet above the ground.
  • Keep fire-pits, barbecue pits, grills, etc. in proper working order and away from flammable vegetation.

We also learned the proper way to cut and stack limbs and brush. Those who applied to the AFD were eligible to have their brush piles chipped and the chips removed by the MFS and AFD on June 29. Attendees also received free work gloves, saws, and loppers.

Demonstration attendees also learned some facts about local ordinances concerning private burning and fireworks, some of which surprised us. There’s some misinformation out there! Here are a few key regulations to consider:

  • Fireworks are illegal in Auburn, including on holidays such as the Fourth of July.
  • In areas without local prohibitive ordinances, out-of-state fireworks are also prohibited.
  • Private burns are allowed by permit only. Contact the Auburn Fire Department for permitting.
  • Only clean wood may be burned. Paper, cardboard and leaves are among the prohibited items.
  • A burn must be at least 50’ from any structure and at least 25’ from any road.

Annual Meeting 2018

The TPA annual meeting was held at the Taylor Pond Yacht Club on July 29, 2018 beginning at 7:00 pm. Forty-four members and 4 guests were in attendance. President Dana Little opened the meeting with greetings and a review of the agenda.
The minutes from last year’s meeting were unanimously accepted.
Review of the year’s activities: Dana remarked that the Board has been busy during the past year. Issues included:

  • Working to implement the action plan recommended by the engineering study we commissioned last year: We continue to work with the City and the State to make sure that appropriate measures are taken to help mitigate future flooding problems on the Pond.
  • Responding to a construction proposal at Lost Valley: We were made aware of a proposal by a snow-grooming machine manufacturer to build an industrial facility at Lost Valley. We engaged Joe McLean once again to do an engineering study of their proposal, which he found deficient in its phosphorous mitigation plan. There were also concerns about the potential negative effects of heavy equipment in the area, and noise and light pollution, among others. Ultimately, the company changed its plan and decided to build in the Industrial Park.

Petition to exempt watersheds: The Zoning Board had passed a special exemption of the current zoning law in order to allow the construction of the industrial building/business at Lost Valley, which is located in an agricultural zone. Barbara Mitchell researched options and prepared a petition that requests the City Council to exempt the Lake Auburn and Taylor Pond watersheds from that special exemption to the agriculture and resource protection zoning ordinance. We need at least twenty-five signatures; then, after three notices in the newspaper and written notice to abutters, the petition would go to the Planning Board and then be sent to the City Council. The cost for the petition would be $700: $400 to the City for the work they have to do to prepare for the consideration of the amendment, and $300 to the Sun Journal for the public notices in the paper.

Annual Loon Count Peter Durgin reported that on the foggy morning of July 21, he and several others participated in the Annual Loon Count sponsored by the Audubon Society. They counted seven loons, which perhaps includes three or four transients.

Email communications: Susan requested feedback from members about the number and content of emails they receive. She uses a new communication platform which makes it easier to send out notices, so the number of those has increased of late. Recently she was asked to send a notice to TPA members about an event that might be of interest but did not directly relate to Association business. Members seemed in agreement that the emails are in fact welcome, and that an occasional non-TPA note of interest would be acceptable.

Board of Directors vote: Five Board members’ terms expire this summer: Dana Little, Ed Gray, Larry Faiman, Donna Morin, and Kristi Norcross. They have all agreed to serve again and in addition, Jan Phillips has agreed to join. This slate of six directors was voted in unanimously. They join current members Susan Trask, Barbara Mitchell, Marc Tardif, Woody Trask and Bill Turner, whose terms continue until the summer of 2019. Dana remarked on the value of having a robust board with a diverse membership for best results in dealing with the various issues we face.
Water Quality: Woody Trask reported that, overall, the water quality remained excellent last summer. Michael Heskinen has been conducting frequent clarity readings in addition to Woody’s monthly analyses. This summer he has recorded the lowest phosphorous readingever!
Game Warden: Woody reported that he recently had a conversation with the local game warden. The latter stated that he has visited Taylor Pond four times this summer so far. The most violations have been the lack of boat registrations on board the boat. Many people have been able to produce the registration by going home and finding it there. The other major issue is the reports of people in canoes, kayaks, and paddleboards out at night with no lights. Some have also been informed that, in addition to life jackets, a whistle is required for all manually-powered watercraft. Secretary’s note: Maine State Regs dorequire the following:

  • A wearable PFD for every person aboard any watercraft; children 10 and under must wear one.
  • One throwable PFD for every motor-powered craft greater than 16’
  • For paddleboards: a PFD for each person, a whistle, and a light if after dark

See for the complete boating regulations handbook.
Financial report Treasurer Ed Gray reports that we have approximately $26,900 in the checking account and 117current members. Most people seem to appreciate the email invoices we have been using. Please continue to update him with any changes in your address.

Questions from members

  • Is there an update on the boat launch issue? For background: Earlier this summer the owner of The Campground, where most of us launch our motorboats, complained that too many people were not contributing the $5 donated fee. There were offers from some members to take up a collection, but he does not want a donation. He seems weary of having the only “public” boat launch and may close it to all but the campers at Sunrise. He also chose not to attend a Board meeting to discuss it. If the State decides to create a public launch, then we would be very concerned about the possibility of invasive milfoil.
  • What about swimmer’s itch? On Father’s Day, those who swam at the Yacht Club beach contracted swimmers’ itch. It was also reported from near Valview Dr, but not recently. Dana said that it is caused by a parasite that needs not only a duck host, but also a snail host to survive. It is very uncomfortable, but not dangerous. Shallower water is more likely to have it. It’s a good reminder to never encourage visits by ducks!

Maine Program: Fire Safety Susan introduced Kent Nelson of the Maine State Forest Service. Also in attendance were Auburn Fire Chief Bob Chase and Administrative Manager Sarah Hulbert.  Susan re-capped TPA’s collaboration with the Forest Service and the Auburn Fire Department, which culminated in June with a fire safety workshop and a community chipping day.
Ranger Nelson presented a slide show which educated us on how to identify and mitigate wildfire risks on our properties, and also to report on the results of the fire risk survey that was conducted around Taylor Pond last fall. The properties around Taylor Pond are identified as being in the Wildlife Urban Interface (WUI), where homes meet the forest. There are specific risk factors and recommendations for those living in the WUI.
The fall assessment included a 23-question survey of various random locations around the Pond. Some owners had requested a personal survey, which was also done. Others may request a personal survey as well.
A brief summary of results:

  • 95% of homes have only one access road
  • 35% of homes had no signs
  • 60% have less than 30 ft. of “defensible space” ; 30% have 30-70 ft.
  • 15% had a high rating for combustible fuel near the home
  • 30% rated high risk of wildfire; 65% rated moderate
  • 55%  exhibited combustible roof litter
  • Water availability was inconsistent
  • Response time: an hour or less by ranger; 45 minutes or less by helicopter

The complete report will be posted on the TPA website:
Ranger Nelson suggested that, while some of the above issues are not easily resolved, owners could focus immediately on three actions:

  1. Work to create a “defensible space” (i.e. the area around the home available for firefighters to defend the home.
  2. Reduce the amount of shrubbery and trees that are in direct contact with your structures. Pine trees provide better potential combustion than do hardwoods.
  3. Make sure that your property is well-identified. Post 6” house numbers that are clearly visible from both directions.

Although just a few property owners participated in the free chipping day, there will be opportunities in the future to do so again. He is hoping more folks will take advantage of it. The Forest Service has just created a new system for reporting current fire danger in the State:
Chief Chase was questioned about the availability of water around the Pond for fighting fires. He acknowledged that Auburn does not have a tanker truck for areas that are not served with hydrants (including much of the TP shoreline). It is generally not practical to try to pump water from the lake because the equipment needs to be within 30 feet of the water in order to work. Dry hydrants can be installed, but need to be serviced regularly, are quite expensive, and are tricky to engineer properly. When asked about year-round water in order to ensure hydrant availability, he said that the issue would be wrapped into a general survey of all the rural areas of Auburn in order to supply the best overall outcomes in the most cost-effective manner.
Dana thanked Ranger Nelson and Chief Chase for their presentations and information; the audience was most appreciative. The meeting was adjourned, and the two remained for a while, fielding individual questions from members.

Respectfully submitted,
Susan Trask, Secretary

Wildfire Protection Plan

The Maine Forest Service and Auburn Fire Department prepared a comprehensive Wildfire Protection Plan for Taylor Pond.  The complete report can be found at this link.  The executive summary can be found below:

Executive Summary of the 2018 Community Wildfire Protection Plan

The goal of the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI) assessment program is to evaluate a community for hazards in the event of a wildfire in the wildland urban interface (the area where homes intermingle with wildland vegetation).  The assessment also identifies the means by which any hazards found can be mitigated. The objective is to minimize the ability of fire to move between wildland and structures, thereby reducing the threat to life and property.

In 2010 the Maine Forest Service recorded 562 wildland fires, although the actual number of wildland fires could be higher.  Nearly 75% of these fires in 2010 destroyed, damaged, or threatened structures.

During the five year period between 2006 and 2010  the Maine Forest Service recorded 1,235 wildland fires in the Southern District (which encompasses Auburn ME) burning an estimated total area of 1,043.41 acres.  Examples of historic wildfire suppression costs in Maine communities include: Allagash (1992, $522,855.96); Garfield Plt (1991, $305,593.83); Baileyville (1998, $286,668.43); Freeport (1991, $271,035.00); Dixfield (2002, $90,338.59); Milo (2002, $76,795.21); Bucksport (2001, $68,650.00); Northport (2001, $67,957.80); and Centerville (2006, $35,703.14).

During the assessment, 20 structural and 4 vegetative sites were evaluated within the wildland urban interface area.  The assessment focused on such issues as building materials, defensible space, access, road signage, and water availability.  Methodology and detailed results of the assessment are found in the main body of this report. Overall, the structures assessed within Taylor Pond had an average score that falls into the ‘moderate’ risk category with some high and some low risk.

Inadequate defensible space and flammable vegetation inside defensible space are the greatest source of Taylor Pond’s elevated risk.  Factors including low water availability, quality of access roads, and signage contribute to this risk.  This report contains recommendations to rectify the identified issues, along with suggestions for building materials, low-flammable plants, and guidelines for the safe placement of firewood and fuel storage tanks for existing and development areas.

The factors contributing to increased fire risk in the wildland urban interface found within Taylor Pond area can be lessened by following the strategies outlined in this report, “decreasing the risk of catastrophic fire and loss of life and property.”

To see the complete report go to this link.

Flooding Issues Revisited

By Dana Little

How to Reduce Flooding and Need for Flood Insurance on Taylor Pond

Removing obstructions to the free flow of Taylor Brook under Hotel road and Stevens Mill extension could reduce the chance of flooding on the pond.  The Taylor Pond Association hired Joseph McLean of Wright-Pierce engineering to advise us on how to prevent the flooding of so many homes from events like the 9 inches of rain we received in June of 2012.  After a year of study he presented his preliminary report at our last association meeting in August 2017.

Beaver dams and debris in the outlet have often been blamed for causing flooding.  However, Mr. McLean determined that beaver dams, located below Hotel Road, prevent water levels from dropping too low in the summer but do not cause flooding.  They block water flow most of the year, but during high water events water easily flows around, over or through the dam. Removal of any beaver dams would result in lower water levels in the pond but no decrease in flooding events.  

The Hotel Road culvert through which Taylor Brook flows on leaving Taylor Pond does restrict flow and acts like a large dam during high water events.  In 2017 we learned that the state Department of Transportation (DOT) plans to improve this culvert. DOT held a public meeting May 2nd at which I and several other members of the TPA board and pondside residents were present.  We learned that work will likely begin in 2019 and will finish by winter. TPA is working with the engineers at DOT to ensure that the project will have a sufficiently large span to reduce the chance of flooding. According to Joseph McLean’s calculations, if the current culvert (about 18 feet wide) is replaced by a 30 foot span, the high water mark in a 100 year flood would be 4.8 inches lower.

Two other sites that restrict water flow are the dam on Taylor Brook located on the Kendall property and the Stevens Mill Road extension which crosses the brook and allows access to the Kendall home.  We have spoken to the Kendalls and they plan to leave the dam alone. The Stevens Mill Road extension passes over Taylor Brook, is owned by the city and acts as a dam during high water levels. Replacement of the current bridge with a 35 foot wide bridge, in combination with improvements to the Hotel Road culvert, would lower the 100 year flood level by a total of 14.4 inches.  

One final finding of the engineering report could help reduce the estimated 100-year flood elevation by almost two feet (from 245.5 to 243.6).  For certain property owners this could eliminate the need to pay for flood insurance. To change this level, set by FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), we would need to contract with Wright-Pierce or appeal to the city to work with FEMA to change the current flood maps.  With the proposed improvements to Hotel Road, the Stevens Mill extension, and estimates for 100-year flooding, we could see not only the reduced chance of flooding but also elimination of flood insurance payments for many homeowners on the pond. TPA will continue to work for homeowners on the pond to accomplish all three of these goals.