LINCOLN, Maine — Firefighters from four towns contained the flames but weren’t able to save the home of a popular weekly newspaper late Thursday.
The printing press, computers and files of the Lincoln News were heavily damaged by the fire that ravaged the Lincoln News Print Services building at 78 West Broadway. No one was inside the 1½-story building or injured fighting the fire, which was reported shortly before 6:30 p.m.
Lincoln Fire Chief Phil Dawson conceded that the building, which he said was a total loss, might not have been as heavily damaged if his department had a working ladder truck.
Video courtesy of Sara McCormick
“We might have been able to get to it quicker [with a ladder truck] and saved more of the building, but the fire had taken a big bite on the inside of the building pretty quickly,” Dawson said.
Dawson said firefighters detected no immediate cause for the fire. But it appeared to have started inside the rear of the building. An investigator from the State Fire Marshal’s Office is due to visit the scene today.
Witnesses said the fire seemed to spread with terrific speed from the rear of the building along the roof to the front of the structure.
“When I first saw it, I saw a lot of smoke and a little flame from behind the building,” said Clinton Mayo, 38, a William Street resident who was driving by the News when the fire began. “I called it in on my cell phone, and by the time I was done on the phone, in three or four minutes, it was all over the building.”
Several witnesses said they heard muffled explosions as the flames raced forward. Firefighters knocked the fire down, but not before it had burned well into the front office area and nearby garage where the newspaper’s presses are located.
Gloria Boykin, a cashier at Family Dollar, was standing outside the retail store across the street from the News building, on a cigarette break with her friend Karen Cornell when she saw an orange glow. Boykin might have been the first to notice what was happening and her manager, Becky Kierstead, the first to call 911.
“I said to Karen, ‘That’s on fire,’ and I opened the door and yelled in to Becky, ‘Call 911!’” Boykin recalled. Kierstead said that, judging by the number of questions she was asked by dispatchers at the Penobscot Regional Communications Center, she was probably the first to call about the fire.
At about the same time, Lincoln police Sgt. Kevin Giberson was driving east on West Broadway when the smoke caught his eye. Giberson had just passed the eastern edge of the building when he saw the flames, he said. He immediately radioed PRCC to send firefighters.
“I don’t think I was the first to call it in, but I was among the first,” Giberson said.
No one reported seeing anyone near the building before the fire.
Lincoln News reporter Chris DeBeck said he believed that he and office worker Laverne Carll were the last to leave the building at about 5:25 p.m. A reporter at the News since 1998, DeBeck said he went to his home on Lee Road, while Carll took a relative to a doctor’s appointment.
“I am just in shock,” DeBeck said. “I had no idea when I left that there was anything like a problem there. Everything was fine. There was no indication of a problem, no smells of smoke or anything.”
DeBeck said he did not know whether the building had a fire alarm, smoke detectors or was insured.
Editor and publisher Kevin Tenggren had arrived on the scene from his home in Argyle by 8 p.m., but could not be reached for comment.
Lincoln News Print Services offers complete design, typesetting and setup services, from simple business cards and brochures to full-color sales catalogs, product packaging and corporate identity packages, according to its Web site, lincnews.com.
Published on Thursdays, the News has a distribution of 6,300, which includes 1,500 issues mailed to households across the United States and around the world, the Web site states. It is circulated primarily in the Katahdin and Lincoln Lakes regions.
The latest edition of the paper had just hit the newsstands that day.
The News building had no recent problems, DeBeck said. Its large front bay window had been replaced by two smaller windows as an energy-saving measure within the last two months, he said.
Dawson said firefighters detected no immediate cause for the fire, but it appeared to have started inside the rear of the building. An investigator from the State Fire Marshal’s Office is due to visit the scene today.
Howland, Lee and Mattawamkeag firefighters responded to mutual aid calls and helped Lincoln fight the fire, with Lee’s ladder truck used to help douse flames burning into the building’s peak. Lincoln’s ladder truck went to the fire and was used as a pumper, but its aerial was not used, firefighters said.
Fire Chief Dawson warned on Oct. 27 that the town’s lack of a working aerial ladder could prove problematic in some fires. Hydraulic lifts on ladder trucks allow firefighters to get above roofs without setting foot on them to douse flames, or to reach roofs easily to vent and cool hot spots.
The department’s sole ladder truck, a 1981 Mac that the town bought in 1993 for $49,500, has been off line since it failed its annual safety inspection early last month.
By a vote of 943-743, residents on Tuesday approved appropriating as much as $225,000 to buy a used ladder truck, but the truck has not yet been purchased. Dawson said it could be months before firefighters buy a ladder truck.