Water cooler suspected in MDI fire

Posted Jan. 30, 2009, at 10:14 p.m.

MOUNT DESERT, Maine — The acrid stench of burning plastic and building materials from a structure fire wafted through the streets of Northeast Harbor again on Friday, one week after flames claimed a Main Street restaurant.

A home and an attached garage about one block away from last week’s fire were gutted Friday but no one was hurt, according to Fire Chief Mike Bender.

He said a man who was renting the home told officials that the fire started after he plugged in a drinking water cooler.

Bender stressed that the fire investigation had not yet begun and that the tenant’s hypothesis of how the fire started had not been confirmed.

“I have called the State Fire Marshal’s Office [to investigate the fire scene],” Bender said Friday afternoon outside the charred home.

The house, at 23 Maple Lane, is the fifth building in Northeast Harbor’s densely developed village to be consumed by fire since last summer. The other four were commercial buildings on Main Street.

Anne Gray, who co-owns Holmes Store with her husband, Douglas “Scamp” Gray, also owns the home that burned Friday. She said her tenant, Gunnar Davis, told her the fire started after he plugged in a drinking water cooler in a room off the kitchen. He told her a light on the appliance did not come on, which made him think it was not working properly. His attention was distracted for a few minutes, she said, and when he went back to the cooler it was smoking and then quickly caught fire.

“I’m just glad they’re all right,” Gray said of her tenants. Davis, his wife and their two children were living in the house, she said, and another tenant was renting an apartment above the attached garage.

Gray said the home was insured. She and her husband bought the property in 1999 and were looking to sell it. The couple plans to rebuild and to put the new house back on the market, she said.

Last week, the Tan Turtle Tavern on Main Street was gutted by fire after plumbers had been working to repair pipes in the restaurant that had frozen from recent subzero temperatures. The State Fire Marshal’s Office said this week it believes the Jan. 23 fire was started accidentally by plumbers who had been in the building ear-lier that day.

Last July, three other Main Street buildings went up in flames when a fire broke out in the Colonel’s Deli & Bakery early on the morning of July 29. The bakery and art galleries on either side of it were destroyed in that blaze, the cause of which has not been determined.

While firefighters from three towns worked Friday to put out the latest fire, carpenters could be heard working inside a new building that is going up where the bakery used to stand. Mark and Stephanie Reece, owners of the bakery, have said they hope to reopen by the end of June.

Bender said that losing five buildings, all within several hundred yards of each other, in a relatively short period of time is unusual.

“It’s never happened [before] in this town,” the fire chief said. “I just think it’s a coincidence at this point, as strange as it seems.”

Bender said firefighters from Southwest Harbor and Bar Harbor responded to Friday’s fire alarm, as did emergency medical technicians with Northeast Harbor Ambulance Service.

Gretchen O’Grady of the Pine Tree Chapter of the American Red Cross said the agency would help find places for the displaced tenants to stay. Gray said she and her husband own a vacant rental property on Route 198 and may put up Davis and his family there, at least temporarily.

btrotter@bangordailynews.net

460-6318

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