May 25, 2018
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Bar Harbor Oceanarium stays open despite fire damage

By Bill Trotter, BDN Staff

BAR HARBOR, Maine — Despite a fire Wednesday night that destroyed one of the buildings at a local oceanfront aquarium, the facility opened for business Thursday and is expected to keep operating Monday through Saturday throughout the summer, according to the owner.

David Mills, whose family owns and operates the Oceanarium, said the fire destroyed the aquarium’s Lobster Museum, which included a touch tank where visitors could learn about marine creatures such as starfish, horseshoe crabs and sea cucumbers. But the facility’s lobster hatchery was spared and a new touch tank, assembled with an extra tank that escaped the flames, already has been stocked with other animals and put on display, he said.

Assistant Fire Chief Joey Kane said Thursday that damage from the blaze is too extensive to determine how it started. The building destroyed in the fire, about 25 feet wide by 80 feet long, contained displays about lobsters and lobster fishing in an open-floor layout, Kane said.

Kane said Mills was having the fire damage assessed Thursday by the aquarium’s insurance company, but that he doesn’t expect there will be any further official investigation of the blaze.

No one was injured in the fire, which was reported around 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, local fire officials said. Firefighters were able to prevent flames from spreading to other nearby buildings on the property.

Mills said that members of his family were staying in a camper next to the building that caught fire. If the fire had started six hours later, after they had gone to sleep, he said, they could have gotten hurt, or worse.

Mills said members of the Oceanarium staff routinely ask visitors what they could do to improve their experience, and did so again Thursday despite feeling down about the fire. The answers they got Thursday, he said, were overwhelmingly positive, both from paid customers and local residents.

“That encourages us,” Mills said. “We have a great staff here.”

The Oceanarium was founded in Southwest Harbor in 1972 and opened its Bar Harbor location in the summer of 1990. Mills said the aquarium, which includes a marsh walk, attracts thousands of people each summer. The aquarium’s lobster program, which includes hatchery tours and presentations on the lobster industry, is operating despite the fire, he said.

During the blaze, Route 3 next to the Oceanarium was closed to traffic for about 75 minutes between Knox Road and Route 102, according to Kane. Traffic was diverted through the local village of Town Hill while firefighters from Bar Harbor, Mount Desert, Southwest Harbor and Trenton worked to contain the flames, he said.

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