June 01, 2020
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Winds fan flames that destroy landmark, other buildings in Grand Isle

GRAND ISLE, Maine — A huge fire, fanned by brisk winds, destroyed a local 90-year-old landmark and three other buildings Sunday afternoon and evening despite the efforts of more than 70 firefighters from 11 fire departments in northern Maine and Canada.

Mike True, owner of Lille Antiques, said Monday that his real estate was insured but he was not sure what the future held for his antique business and his home along Route 1 in Lille Village, a part of Grand Isle.

“It’s just too early to know what my options are at this point,” True said Monday afternoon when reached in Lewiston, where he had driven late Sunday for unrelated medical appointments.

“I guess, at this point, that the loss could be $150,000 or more,” he said.

True said he was stripping an antique piece of furniture in a barn-garage located behind his Main Street business Sunday afternoon when a light was knocked over and it landed into some of the chemicals he was using. The fire flared up quickly, he said.

Grand Isle Fire Chief Gary Campbell said Monday, “There is nothing to salvage there. It exploded in there when the light fixture went down. He’s [True] lucky he got out without any injuries.”

Campbell said 72 firefighters from Grand Isle, Van Buren, Madawaska and Frenchville, in Maine, and from Edmundston, Baker Brook, St. Anne, St. Leonard, Grand Falls and Drummond, all in neighboring New Brunswick helped fight the fire, which was called in between 3:30 and 3:45 p.m. Sunday.

The fire quickly spread from the barn-garage to the nearby home that also housed the business.

“The place was in flames when we arrived,” Campbell said. “Everything is gone.“

True purchased the antique business from Lester Dumond about 10 years ago. He lost an untold number of “precious” antiques, the home where he and his partner Edie Williams lived, and the three-door garage-barn that recently had been remodeled.

Campbell said that a brisk wind fanned the fire and then carried the flames from True’s property to a vacant home across Route 1.

Don Cyr, executive director of the Musee du Mont Carmel which is located next door in a renovated church, said Monday that the museum organization owned the vacant house that burned across the street.

Cyr recalled how he and True had finished painting the barn-garage just a month ago.

“I would rather see our house burn than either of the two homes, where people live, over there,” Cyr said pointing across the street.

Cyr said the museum had hoped to turn its vacant building into a hostel for artists and craftsmen. The large 2½-story structure was once a boarding home for elderly people from the area. He said he couldn’t estimate the loss to the museum organization and that the building was not insured.

Also destroyed Sunday was a garage on a lot neighboring True’s property that is owned by Ronald and Linda Daigle of Madawaska.

Richard Daigle of Van Buren, who is familiar with the Daigles’ property and was visiting the scene Monday, said the garage housed an a late 1940s or early 1950s model truck. The truck was equipped with a crop sprayer originally built by the former owners of the property.

“It was one of a kind. Built from scratch,” he said.

Flames also melted the siding on another neighboring garage owned by the Grand Isle Volunteer Fire Department. Aside from the melted siding on the wall closest to the fire, however, there was no other damage to the building.

Just before noontime Monday, smoke still rose from the heaps of collapsed wood where the burned buildings once stood. A huge excavator at the scene turned over some embers to prevent any flare ups.

While most of the firefighters were able to leave the scene by 9 p.m. Sunday night, Campbell said he had four of his volunteers at the site until 3 a.m. Monday.

No firefighters were injured fighting the fires.

The True building, according to Cyr who is also a local historian, artist and genealogist, was built around 1920. The barn-garage was built even earlier, in 1913, according to a date Cyr remembered seeing inside the building when he worked in it.

Richard Daigle said the building was well-built and beautiful and he remembered dancing there when it was owned by a Morneault family.

“The place had beautiful hardwood floors,” he said. “It was quite the building, a landmark in this community.”

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