FORT KENT, Maine – A fast-moving fire had destroyed two buildings on Main Street and was threatening a third early Sunday morning.
Scores of firefighters from nine departments in Maine and New Brunswick responded to the fire which claimed a historic Fort Kent building housing Nadeau’s House of Furniture.
Tenants in apartments on the building’s second floor and from apartments in the neighboring structure were safely evacuated with only minutes to spare and no injuries had been reported as of early Sunday morning.
Among those helping to get the tenants out was Tony Enerva with the Fort Kent Police Department.
“We had literally minutes to get people out,” Enerva said from the scene Sunday morning. “We are really lucky nobody got hurt.”
Matt Bard, an employee for the town who was checking water control pumps behind the buildings around midnight, reportedly first spotted the fire.
First on the scene was Fort Kent Police Officer Richard Martin who said he could hear the flames behind the walls as he alerted tenants to the fire.
“It’s amazing how fast [the fire] went,” Martin said, adding it appeared the fire started in the rear of the buildings.
Residents escaped with just the clothes on their backs and Martin said one woman did not even have time to get her eyeglasses.
The two building’s close proximity to each other made it a challenging blaze to fight, according to Edward Endee, Fort Kent fire chief.
With the two buildings destroyed, crews had turned their attention to saving a third building housing the China Garden Restaurant.
Heat from the fire was so intense it shattered glass in two businesses across the street in addition to melting signs and damaging a pair of riding lawnmowers at Sears.
“I am absolutely stunned by this,” Alan Susee, owner of the Sears store said as he watched firefighters. “We’ve lost a real landmark here in town that is irreplaceable.”
The Nadeau’s House of Furniture building was constructed around 1880 and for the past 37 years, Ellery “Arms” Labbe and his sons Pat Labbe, David Labbe and Phil Labbe have operated furniture and flooring businesses from the site.
“This was not only a historical landmark,” Dave Labbe said as he watched the fire consume this family’s business. “My dad made it what it is today and we all worked so hard there for so many years and to look at it now, destroyed in a half hour — I just can’t believe it.”
Firefighters managed to save a separate building housing the flooring business but a third building used for furniture storage was heavily damaged by smoke, heat and water.
“Everyone is safe,” Labbe said. “When we heard there was a fire, our first thoughts were for the tenants and did they get out OK.”
Labbe said when he arrived and saw the tenants — including a young couple with a baby — safely outside, he broke down in tears.
Among the tenants was Chad Pelletier who was watching the fire with Labbe, and who was not at home when it broke out.
“When I got here there was nothing to see in the front [and] I walked around to the back and asked the firemen if I could go inside to get the keys to my truck so I could move it,” Pelletier said. “They would not let me in and by the time I’d walked around to the front again there were flames coming out the windows and I thought, ‘that’s it.’”
Firefighters on the scene reported the building was totally engulfed when they arrived and estimated it took less than 20 minutes for Nadeau’s House of Furniture to be completely destroyed.
“That building is in most of the historic photos you see of Fort Kent,” Don Guimond, town manager, said from the scene. “This has taken out the middle of our community [and] the heart of our downtown is gone.”
David Labbe said the business was insured and it is unknown how many of the tenants had renters’ insurance.
In addition to the Fort Kent Volunteer Fire Department, crews from St. Francis, St. Agatha, Frenchville, Madawaska, Cross Lake, Eagle Lake, St. Francois, New Brunswick and Clair, New Brunswick assisted at the fire. The state fire marshal was expected to be in Fort Kent Sunday to investigate.