May 22, 2018
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Tan Turtle Restaurant burns on MDI

Contributed | BDN
Contributed | BDN
By Rich Hewitt and Dawn Gagnon, Special to the BDN

NORTHEAST HARBOR, Maine — A fire destroyed a Main Street restaurant Friday night just about six months after another fire caused an estimated $1 million in damage to the downtown.

No one was injured Friday, but flames gutted the Tan Turtle Restaurant and an apartment housed above it in a two-story structure located just a few doors down from where a fire this summer destroyed three other buildings.

Friday’s fire was called in shortly before 6 p.m. by two residents who happened by and saw flames inside the restaurant, which was closed for the winter, said Mount Desert Police Chief Jim Willis.

The owner of the building, Rob DeGennaro, lives in the apartment above the restaurant in the summer but is in Florida for the winter.

When the first firefighters arrived on the scene, there were flames showing on the south side of the building and there was heavy smoke visible on the upper floors, said Mount Desert Fire Chief Mike Bender.

Bender said a crew that entered the first floor of the structure was “able to knock [the fire] down some, but then we realized it had extended into the second floor.”

At that point the first crew was pulled out. A second interior attack was attempted shortly afterward, but the intense heat and heavy smoke forced those firefighters to retreat as well, he said.

Firefighters from towns across Mount Desert Island as well as crews from several other Hancock County communities off the island were called in to battle the blaze.

They were able to contain the fire by 9 p.m. and prevent it from spreading to nearby buildings in the downtown area. The firefighters, who were expected to remain on scene into the early morning hours, also were able to prevent the flames from igniting five large propane tanks located behind the restaurant.

The roof of the building housing the Tan Turtle collapsed, however, and the rear of the structure was demolished, according to firefighters.

“It’s devastating,” said Katrina Carter of Northeast Harbor, who runs a real estate office just a few doors down on Main Street. From the porch at her business, Carter served cookies and coffee to firefighters when they took a break.

“It also makes you glad to live in a small town, because everybody turns out,” she said as she looked out at the dozens of firefighters battling the blaze down the street.

Reached in Florida by phone Friday night, building owner Rob DeGennaro acknowledged that he was feeling “pretty helpless” but that he was being kept apprised of the unfolding situation by several local people, including former employee David Brown, to whom he sold the restaurant last month.

“As long as no one was hurt, that’s all that really matters,” he said.

“From what I understand, the building is leveled. My hopes are that we can pick up the pieces, rebuild and make it better than ever,” said DeGennaro, who has insurance on the building.

Also hoping he’ll rebuild are the 22 seasonal employees DeGennaro brought with him from Maine to work in his new restaurant called Icabod’s in Fort Myers, Fla. The group planned to return to Maine to work at the Tan Turtle when it reopened later this year, he said.

DeGennaro, said the restaurant was closed for the season and the apartment above it was vacant. The apartment, he said, served as his family’s summer home.

“We just lost all of our belongings,” including many antiques, he said.

DeGennaro said he was worried that the large propane tanks behind the building might blow up, recalling the fire in July when a paramedic was injured in a propane tank explosion.

He pointed out that the tanks outside his building were a newer style that had expansion valves to prevent such explosions.

Donna Walton, another resident of the village, said Friday as she watched the fire from a distance on Main Street, “It’s another business on Main Street gone and more people out of work.”

About six months ago, on July 29, an early morning fire destroyed another restaurant and two art galleries and displaced nearly two dozen people who lived in apartments above street level.

Mark Reece and his wife, Stephanie, who owned the Colonel’s Bakery and Deli, are in the process of rebuilding and said in December that they hoped to reopen by the end of June.

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