Acadia History & Museums: Bar Harbor Fire of 1947

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1947 Fire

The year of 1947 was one of the driest years in the entire State Of Maine. The State had numerous, devastating wildfires during the extreme hot fall weather. It was actually known as "the year Maine burned." Because Mount Desert Island was known as a summer retreat for the very wealthy, the fire in Bar Harbor and surrounding area received attention worldwide. Read More

The actual cause of the fire of 1947 was never determined. The facts that are known, is that on Friday, October 17, 1947, Mrs. Gilbert called the Bar Harbor, Maine Fire Department and advised that she could see smoke rising from a cranberry bog which was located between her home and Acadia National Park. It is not known if careless, cigarette smoking cranberry pickers were responsible, or if a trash fire got out of hand. Regardless of the cause, the fire began to smolder and eventually burned nearly 1/3 of the eastern side of Mount Desert Island.

The fire burned slowly at first covering little ground. However, on the morning of October 23, 1947, hurricane force winds whipped the fire into a firestorm and sent the flames rushing toward Bar Harbor. In little more than three hours, the firestorm had traveled nearly six miles – creating a path of destruction in its wake that was three miles wide.

Sixty-seven of the majestic summer estates owned by the wealthy and famous were destroyed. Although the fire skimmed around the business district of Bar Harbor, over 170 permanent residences and five huge historic hotels were completely burned.

Nature and man worked together to restore much of Mount Desert Island. Burned timber was salvaged and measures were taken to prevent erosion. Forests reseeded themselves and plants began again. Many of the permanent inhabitants rebuilt their homes, but the extravagant summer cottages were not replaced. Most the wealthy seasonal families never returned.