GREENWOOD, Maine — The lodge at Mt. Abram Family Resort was heavily damaged by fire early Wednesday evening when it was struck by lightning during a storm that swept across the state.
Bryant Pond resident George Hooper, who lives near the ski area, said he saw lightning and heard a loud clap of thunder that “shook the whole house.”
“Within 5 minutes, all hell broke lose,” he said in a phone interview Wednesday night. The sound of sirens could be heard in the background an hour after the strike was reported at about 6 p.m.
“We could see the heavy, black smoke,” said Hooper, who lives about three-quarters of a mile from the mountain.
Crews from Bethel, Greenwood and Woodstock were immediately dispatched to the base lodge, followed by Gilead, West Paris and Paris units.
“That smoke was just billowing,” Hooper said of the black smoke that could be seen from miles away.
Although not a skier, Hooper said he was on Mt. Abram recently, helping a man who needed a ride there and had seen the large lodge, which he estimated to be at least 30 years old. The resort, which has 44 trails, opened in 1960.
The resort was bought in 2008 by Rob Lally, an investor in Black Bear Entertainment, the company that is building a casino in Oxford, and Matt Hancock, who both own homes near the resort.
Jane Chandler, who lives on Camp Road in Bryant Pond, said she saw the lightning strike the base of the mountain where the lodge is located.
“The whole sky was black. It was thundering and lightning and booming,” she said.
Chandler said she immediately saw white smoke at the base of the mountain before it turned black and flames started to shoot out from the lodge.
“I reached for the telephone,” she said of her call to 911 as soon as she saw the white smoke and knew it was not mist or a campfire.
Chandler said she went over to the lodge later and saw the roof and upper level of the lodge blackened by the flames.
Another witness said it appeared the main part of the lodge was nearly destroyed by flames. The roof was entirely gone as were parts of some walls.
While crews battled the lodge fire, mayhem reigned elsewhere as thunder, lightning, rain, hail and high winds pounded the western part of the state.
Minutes after the storm moved in, trees were down across an area that included Peru, Rumford, Hanover and Mexico. In Hanover, fierce winds, driving rain and hail were reported at about 5:30 p.m.
In Peru, a lightning strike brought down a tree and power lines near Blaisdell’s Variety, not far from the fire station.
High winds and heavy downpours quickly reduced visibility to zero as storm drains were overloaded, creating ponding and adding to the driving woes.
In Rumford, Route 2 was quickly shut down by firefighters who were sent to Hanover for reports of trees and power lines down during an apparent microburst.
However, there were so many trees across the road that they couldn’t reach it, so responding firefighters radioed to dispatchers to send Newry firefighters to Hanover by about 6 p.m.
Trees and wires were reported down on Tophat and Stearns Hill roads, on Hill and Birch lanes in Hanover and Half Mile Turn on Route 2 in Rumford.
Flooding was reported at 13 Falmouth St. and South Rumford Road in Rumford.
Rumford firefighters rerouting Route 2 traffic down Route 232 radioed dispatchers in Paris asking if that road was closed as well.
Rumford police Sgt. Tracey Higley radioed for help with road flooding due to swamped storm drains.
During the storm, gusting winds were blowing rain sideways up Congress Street in Rumford as cloud-to-ground lightning grew frequent.
While high winds, heavy rains and thunder and lightning roared through the Oxford Hills from Bethel and Newry down to Paris, Norway and Oxford, damage appeared to be minimal.
In Oxford, rescue crews were dispatched to the home of a woman in labor.
“It wasn’t too bad,” said one of the rescue workers, who asked not to be identified, of the ride to Stephens Memorial Hospital at the height of the storm.
The rescue worker said there were “no problems” with the transport and did not know whether the woman had her baby. A hospital nursing supervisor said she had “no information” on whether the woman had given birth.
Norway Fire Chief Dennis Yates said despite the heavy rains, wind and lightning, the only reported problem was a tree down on Round the Pond Road.
By 7 p.m., Route 2 was shut down at Newry Corner, where Route 26 heads to Grafton Notch State Park.
Weather officials say the storm moved east across New England, plowing into Maine at about 5 p.m. Before it arrived here, the storm knocked down trees and power lines across New York and Vermont.
In the Twin Cities, the skies went dark at about 6:30 p.m and thunder was heard 15 minutes later as the storm rolled in.
Fire officials responded to a few alarm malfunctions but otherwise, there was little drama as the weakened storm moved out. Across the Twin Cities and other areas, a double rainbow appeared just as darkness fell.
To read more of the Sun Journal, visit sunjournal.com.