PATTEN, Maine — Seven fire departments could do little to save the 104-year-old former Patten Primary School on Main Street from a fire Thursday that left a family of seven homeless.
Subject to many renovations since it closed as a school in the spring of 1999, the two-story home apparently caught fire shortly after 10 a.m., after its occupants left to do errands, Assistant Fire Chief Greg Forsythe said.
When the first firefighters arrived a few minutes later, they saw flames shooting through a first-floor window. Firefighters had to forgo sending an interior attack team into the building, Forsythe said, and it was clear that the fire would destroy the wood-frame structure.
“We didn’t have enough manpower to start with and it was too far along to have made a difference anyway,” he said Thursday.
No one was injured fighting the fire.
The Maine State Fire Marshal’s Office is investigating the cause of the fire.
Neighbor Karen McGraw said she felt for the family — Richard Will, his wife and five children — who owned the building.
“I hated to see the school closed down. I just like the small schools like this one,” McGraw said. “All those kids that have gone through that school … it’s sad. It was a memory for me and my kids. Even today my kids were talking about having school lunch in the downstairs part of the building.”
High winds, extremely combustible materials, icy and snowy conditions that stressed the town’s small fire hydrant system, and concerns about hazardous material combined to keep firefighters at the scene for the entire day. It was 2 p.m. before the fire was largely extinguished, and firefighters expected to be trucking tankers back to the scene overnight to quell hot spots, Forsythe said.
Built in 1905, the five-room K-2 school was sold to a town family for $50,000 in 2000. The building was closed as part of a consolidation project in SAD 25, which resulted in four schools closing districtwide.
It had been remodeled in 1973.