BRUNSWICK, Maine — Black smoke filled the air over downtown Brunswick on Friday afternoon as a dramatic blaze destroyed a 179-year-old apartment building on Oak Street, leaving 19 residents homeless and sending two adults to the hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation.
Firefighters from eight towns, as well as the Brunswick Naval Air Station, went to to 16-18 Oak St. at 3:40 p.m. Friday, where a six-unit apartment building burned to the point of being uninhabitable.
The fire apparently ignited in a first-floor apartment and spread throughout the building, according to Brunswick police Lt. Mark Waltz, who went to the scene and investigated the origin of the fire.
Two adult occupants of the apartment were treated at Parkview Adventist Medical Center for smoke inhalation and released later that day, Waltz said. A child in the apartment was uninjured.
Ten adults and nine children lived in the three-story, six-unit building, according to Connie Jones, executive director of the Mid Coast Chapter of the American Red Cross.
Firefighters from Brunswick Naval Air Station, Freeport, Topsham, Bath, West Bath, Lisbon, Durham, Cumberland and Yarmouth assisted at the fire scene, according to Brunswick emergency dispatch logs.
Waltz said a Brunswick firefighter’s foot went through a staircase in the building, but he continued to fight the fire.
“The roof was damaged on both halves and burned through, and the rear of the building was severely damaged on the 16 Oak St. side, and some on the 18 Oak St. side,” Waltz said Monday. “The entire building had significant water damage.”
A joint investigation by the Brunswick Fire Department, the Brunswick Police Department and the Maine State Fire Marshal’s Office determined that the fire resulted from “a problem with old wiring,” Waltz said.
The building, built in 1832, is owned by Jeffrey and Tammy Matthews of Topsham, according to Brunswick tax records.
Six volunteers from the Mid Coast Chapter of the American Red Cross answered calls just before 4 p.m. and stayed with victims of the fire until close to 9 p.m., Jones said Monday. Five of the six families received temporary lodging at local hotel, she said, while the sixth chose to stay with family. All families received financial assistance for emergency food and clothing, and some also received assistance to replace medications.
Jones said her office will encourage the residents — some of whom received Section 8 affordable housing assistance through the Brunswick Housing Authority — to contact the BHA or the landlord to locate alternate housing.
Friday’s fire was the most recent in a long string of similar incidents that have left the local chapter of the American Red Cross struggling to meet the demands of the 36 communities it covers.
“This fire is another draw on our resources, following a really difficult winter when there were so many home fires in our communities,” she said. “We saw an unusual number of fires as families were struggling to make ends meet.”
Donations to the Mid Coast Chapter of the American Red Cross may be mailed to: Mid Coast Chapter, Local Disaster Relief Fund, 16 Community Way, Topsham 04086. For information, call 729-6779.