CANAAN, Maine — For the second time in seven years, fire has destroyed the Robert Johnson and Sons Sawmill and Firewood Co. on Whitten Road in Canaan.
The fire, which may have been caused by an electrical spark, raced through the lumber company’s complex of buildings, many filled with wood and sawdust.
The blaze was reported at 7 a.m. and when Canaan firefighters arrived on the scene, “it was already gone,” Canaan Fire Chief Ray Small said. “It just roared through here, fast, fast.”
At least six buildings were destroyed along with thousands of dollars worth of equipment and inventory, including lumber, logs and firewood.
Johnson has owned the sawmill for 16 years and said he was not insured. The damage was estimated to be at least $300,000 and eight people worked at the mill, many of them family members of Johnson.
More than 30 firefighters from eight fire departments — Canaan, Burnham, Cornville, Pittsfield, Clinton, Hartland, St. Albans and Skowhegan — went to the fire, which could be seen 20 miles away. Whitten Road connects Hill Road and Johnson Flat Road.
“We were here seven years ago,” Pittsfield Fire Chief Dean Billings recalled. “It burned completely then too.”
Johnson reportedly had just installed a new system that would cut and split firewood automatically and told firefighters that the fire was spotted moments after he switched on a generator. It is believed that a spark from that switch ignited fuel.
Canaan Assistant Chief Nelson Bowden said that a handful of employees attempted to put the fire out with fire extinguishers but it had so much fuel that their efforts were fruitless. “It definitely started in the generator room. They had to get out pretty quickly,” Bowden said.
Bowden said no one was injured at the fire and that no further investigation will be conducted.