Massive fire destroys downtown Brunswick building Sunday morning

Posted April 18, 2011, at 5:49 p.m.

BRUNSWICK, Maine — A three-alarm inferno early Sunday morning destroyed a landmark building at the corner of Maine and Mason streets, leaving 17 people homeless and destroying at least three small businesses.

Firefighters from 10 departments spent hours battling the flames that consumed the three-story building at the corner of 45-47 Maine St. and 1 Mason St. All escaped injury, although a blast of flames from the building’s windows at about 3 a.m. led Brunswick Fire Chief Ken Brillant to clear firefighters from the building.

No one was injured during the fire, but after the blaze had been doused, a vehicle ran over the foot of a firefighter from Brunswick Naval Air Station as he was picking up a hose on Federal Street, Brillant said.

“This was actually a really bad fire,” Deputy Fire Chief Jeff Emerson said, noting that at one point approximately 100 firefighters worked to bring the conflagration under control.

When Brunswick police went to the scene at 2:30 a.m. Sunday, Patrol Officers Patrick Scott and Brandon Ingaharro headed in through a Maine Street entrance, but the staircase to the second floor “erupted in flames,” Sgt. Russ Wrede said. Wrede, who was just behind Scott and Ingaharro, said they could see fire in the walls, so Scott went into the building through another entrance and began waking residents.

When firefighters first arrived at the building, only smoke was visible because the fire was “rolling around in there, climbing through the walls,” Emerson said.

At 2:48 a.m., Brillant said, he struck the third alarm when he looked up and discovered a man peering down at him from the third floor.

Firefighters used a ladder to rescue the man, and Bath, Brunswick and Freeport firefighters briefly continued their search of the second- and third-floor apartments.

Nine area fire departments provided mutual aid, including Bath, Orr’s and Bailey islands, Topsham, Lisbon, Freeport, Yarmouth, Cumberland and Brunswick Naval Air Station.

Just before 3 a.m., Brillant said, the windows blew out and all trucks in the area blasted their air horns, calling for an emergency evacuation of all firefighters.

Altogether 17 residents — including a 6-month-old infant — were evacuated from 11 units, according to Brillant.

Heavy smoke clogged the air in downtown Brunswick early Sunday morning as crews fought the flames and cold, wet rain added to already windy conditions.

“Everyone did a great job,” Brillant said Sunday afternoon at the scene as construction vehicles finished demolishing the building while firefighters continued to soak the rubble to ensure no hot spots erupted.

Firefighters saved an adjacent building at 11 Mason St. — site of Blessings, a vintage home goods store — that was virtually attached to the structure that burned by “just keeping big water on it all the time,” Brillant said.

The property, which dates to 1837, is owned by Orville Ranger of Harding Road, according to Brunswick tax records.

Four units were rented to clients of Brunswick Housing Authority who received Section 8 housing assistance, according to BHA Executive Director John Hodge. Hodge said Sunday that Brunswick Housing Authority staff would contact other landlords who have vacancies “and we will certainly do our best to find vacancies for them.”

Residents of the building were taken by bus to the Mid Coast Chapter of the American Red Cross in Topsham to meet with volunteers, who provided immediate shelter, clothing, food and prescription medications lost in the fire, according to Connie Jones, executive director of the local Red Cross chapter.

Sunday’s fire was the third this year — and second in 10 days — to consume a large, multiunit building in Brunswick that provided homes for Section 8 clients.

On Feb. 16, a Brunswick man suffered burns over 25 to 30 percent of his body during a three-alarm fire in a 12-unit apartment building at 84 Union St.

Firefighters rescued two other tenants during that blaze, which was determined to be a cooking fire. Seventeen people were displaced as a result of that fire.

On April 8, a 179-year-old apartment building at 16-18 Oak St. burned to the point of being uninhabitable after what Brunswick police Lt. Mark Waltz said was “a problem with old wiring.” That fire left 19 people homeless and sent two residents to the hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation.

Jones said the three fires have contributed to “a devastating year” for the midcoast region, noting that the Mid Coast Chapter of the American Red Cross has assisted 74 people in the past 3½  months — “significantly more than we would typically serve over an entire year.”

As such, she said, “our local disaster relief resources have been exhausted.”

Donations can be made online at www.midcoast.redcross.org or by sending a check to the Mid Coast Chapter, 16 Community Way, Topsham 04086. The chapter’s phone number is 729-6779.

On Sunday, hundreds of people lined a large, cordoned-off section of Maine Street to watch crews from Harry C. Crooker & Sons demolish the 174-year-old downtown building, which until Sunday morning contained 11 apartments and several businesses including Wildflours Gluten-Free Bakery, Bounce Cut and Color hair salon and a computer service shop.

Officials from the Maine State Fire Marshal’s Office were at the scene until Sunday afternoon. Emerson said the fire is not believed to be suspicious. No official cause had been determined as of Sunday evening.

 

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