A still image from "The Fire of '47," which will premiere at The Criterion Theatre on Oct. 1. PHOTO COURTESY OF PETER LOGUE

Great Fire of ‘47 film to blaze across big screen

BAR HARBOR — “It was maybe 100 feet high, and it looked like it was only 100 feet ahead of us.”

That’s how one of the community members interviewed for a new documentary remembers the fire that burned much of the eastern side of Mount Desert Island 70 years ago.

The world premiere of “The Fire of 1947″ will be held at The Criterion Theatre on Sunday, Oct. 1, at 2 p.m. It’s a Bar Harbor Historical Society project.

The fire was ignited on Oct. 17 and wasn’t declared out until Nov. 14, 1947. A total of 170 year-round homes and 67 summer cottages were destroyed by the flames. For a time, thousands of people were trapped on the town pier in Bar Harbor as flames surrounded the downtown, cutting off the chance of overland escape. Nearly 19,000 acres, most of it in Acadia National Park, were blackened. The fire also destroyed several large hotels and The Jackson Laboratory.

The year 1947 has been immortalized as “the year Maine burned,” due to its high number of destructive major wild fires.

One of the Bar Harbor Fire Department’s oldest fire engines, a 1933 Seagraves pumper that helped battle the conflagration in 1947, will be on display outside the theater.

Kim Swan of Swan Agency, Sotheby’s International Realty is the producer. “Everyone talks about the ‘Great Fire,’ but soon it will be too late to get first person accounts of what it was like to face that disaster. We wanted to preserve these memories before they were lost,” said Swan. “It is important for people of this time, and this community’s children, to better understand what happened during an event that changed the course of this island’s history,” she said.

Director Peter Logue of Southwest Harbor interviewed more than 20 community members who shared their memories of the tragic conflagration.

Photos and film taken in 1947 are also part of the production, including some never-before-seen clips. Steve Zirnkilton of Seal Harbor is the narrator.

Logue and several of the people featured in the film will be available after the showing to meet with the audience.

Funding from five major sponsors helped bring this film to the community. First National Bank, Kay & Steve Theede, the Means Family Foundation, Cary and June Swan, and L.S. Robinson Co. Insurance/A Division of Allen Insurance and Financial each committed $5,000 to the goal of $25,000. “Maine Magazine” is the official media sponsor.

Tickets for the premiere cost $10 for orchestra, $15 for balcony, and are now on sale at the Bar Harbor Historical Society Museum on Ledgelawn Avenue Monday through Friday from 1-4 p.m., or at the Swan Agency Sotheby’s Realty office at 43 Cottage St., Monday through Friday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tickets will be available at the Criterion on Oct. 1. Children under age 12 enter free.

Call 288-0000 or visit “The Fire of ’47” page on Facebook.

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