June 24, 2018
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Lightning strikes spark fires in Garland, Orland, Bar Harbor and Searsmont

Scott Haskell | BDN
Scott Haskell | BDN
"There was one humongous clap of thunder. I looked out and flames were shooting up through," said Everett Amazeen of Garland on Tuesday as he recounted the lightning strike and resulting fire that destroyed the sawmill behind his home on Campbell Road on Monday evening. He said he used a garden hose to try to keep the fire from spreading to another section of the mill before the fire department arrived. He purchased the sawmill equipment second-hand and had operated in the cow barn for 15 years, making stakes and laths. "I've put thousands of cords of wood through those saws," Amazeen said. "It's heartbreaking to see it go to hell."
By Nick McCrea, BDN Staff

GARLAND, Maine — Intense thunderstorms are believed to be the culprits in fires, radio station interruptions and power outages across central and coastal Maine on Monday night. Storms continued to sweep across parts of the state Tuesday.

In Garland, fire officials said a lightning strike started a blaze that destroyed part of a Campbell Road sawmill.

“I thought [the storm] was going by and I’d just crawled into bed,” Garland Fire Chief Henry Burrill said Tuesday. “My wife heard a loud bang and said, ‘That hit somewhere.’ Sure enough, I was called out of bed five minutes later.”

The lightning strike and call came shortly after 9:30 p.m., Burrill said.

The sawmill, which used to be a barn, “was fully involved when we got there,” he said.

Firefighters worked to save the back part of the building, which was still standing, and to prevent the fire from spreading to a trailer about 20 feet away from the sawmill, according to Burrill.

Burrill said the roof of the sawmill had collapsed by the time firefighters got to the scene.

Half of the building and some of the equipment inside were destroyed, Burrill said.

“It’s heartbreaking to see it go to hell,” said 74-year-old Everett Amazeen, the sawmill’s operator for 15 years.

Corinth and Dexter fire departments helped battle the blaze. Firefighters left the scene around 2 a.m. Tuesday, Burrill said.

The owner does not have insurance, according to Burrill. Amazeen said he does not intend to rebuild.

In Bar Harbor, a lightning strike is being blamed for a fire that destroyed a vacation home on Amscray Lane off Indian Point Road, according to Assistant Fire Chief Joey Kane.

“That’s the probable scenario,” Kane said of the suspected strike.

The fire was reported around 2:30 a.m. by Trenton residents who saw the flames from across Western Bay, Kane said. By the time firefighters arrived at the remote location about 25 minutes later, the house was engulfed, he said.

Firefighters from Mount Desert, Southwest Harbor, Tremont and Trenton went to fight the blaze, which gutted the home and destroyed an attached garage and a Subaru car that was inside, Kane said. No one was staying at the time in the 3,500-square-foot home, which is believed to be insured, he said.

At around the same time of the Bar Harbor strike, Orland firefighters were called to Bald Mountain Road for an electrical fire at a home.

Crews arrived about 2 a.m. Tuesday and “could see smoke coming from the house, and the circuit breaker was on fire in the basement,” said Orland Assistant Fire Chief Bob Conary.

Conary said he was fairly sure a lightning strike sparked the fire.

The fire spread to the basement ceiling and charred the floor. Smoke damaged other parts of the house, but with the exception of a few items in the basement, no belongings were destroyed, Conary said.

“We were lucky enough to get there in time to knock it down,” Conary said. “That early in the morning it sometimes doesn’t work out that way.”

The Bucksport and Dedham fire departments also went to the call.

Another fire started by a lightning strike was reported in Searsmont, according to The Associated Press. Calls to Searsmont fire officials were not returned Tuesday morning.

Thunderstorms caused more than 5,500 outages Monday night, according to Susan Faloon of Bangor Hydro-Electric Co. Most of those occurred in northern Penobscot County — with Millinocket and Medway taking the hardest hits.

As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, power had been restored to all but 37 Bangor Hydro customers.

More storms continued to sweep through the state Tuesday, said Tony Mignone, meteorologist for the National Weather Service in Caribou.

Mignone said the thunderstorms rolling through were caused by an upper-level low pressure system. The storms break out and fall apart quickly and feature heavy rain, he said.

“[The storms] are not moving very fast and that’s the reason for the large rainfall amounts,” he said. Southern parts of the state reported large hail early Tuesday morning.

Lightning strikes also caused problems for several Blueberry Broadcasting stations late Monday and early Tuesday, according to Bruce Biette, the company’s vice president and CEO.

WVOM 103.9 FM, a Bangor-based station, had its signal interrupted briefly overnight.

“It wasn’t out for long,” Biette said. “We took a hit here at the Target Industrial Circle location [in Bangor].”

Biette said he believes the lightning hit the ground near the building or one of the antennas.

KISS 94.5 FM went out for several hours early Tuesday morning after a separate lightning strike in Ellsworth, Biette said.

“Considering the amount of thunder and lightning last night, we were pretty fortunate that it only did what damage it did,” he said.

BDN staffers Bill Trotter and Scott Haskell contributed to this report.

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