October 1947: The Fire of 1947

In late October 1947, out-of-control fires in southern and coastal Maine burned 205,678 acres — equivalent to a mile-wide swath from Kittery to Fort Kent — leveling nine communities and destroying 1,000 houses. Sixteen deaths were attributed to the natural disaster, the worst in Maine history.

At Bates, nearly 300 male students, about 40 percent of the student body of 767, volunteered for firefighting duty. A state disaster committee dispatched the volunteers to help fight the fires in towns like Bowdoinham, Kennebunk, Cornish and Richmond. Meanwhile, female students conducted watches on campus and at Thorncrag, raked leaves away from residence halls, and collected clothing donations for the Red Cross. Three accounts, two written in ’47 and one looking back after 50-plus years, describe the days of fire: