Cause of massive Fort Kent fire may never be known

Two generations of the Labbe family look over the pile of rubble that had been Nadeau's House of Furniture on Tuesday, March 27, 2012. The building, along with two others, was destroyed in an early morning fire on Sunday. Ellery &quotArms" Labbe (second from right) purchased the furniture business in 1975 and operated with his sons Dave (left), Phil (second from left) and Pat (right). A separate nearby flooring business owned by Dave Labbe was saved.
Two generations of the Labbe family look over the pile of rubble that had been Nadeau's House of Furniture on Tuesday, March 27, 2012. The building, along with two others, was destroyed in an early morning fire on Sunday. Ellery "Arms" Labbe (second from right) purchased the furniture business in 1975 and operated with his sons Dave (left), Phil (second from left) and Pat (right). A separate nearby flooring business owned by Dave Labbe was saved.
Posted March 27, 2012, at 3:32 p.m.
Last modified March 27, 2012, at 10:38 p.m.
Firefighters from eight departments from Maine and New Brunswick fought a major fire in downtown Fort Kent early Sunday morning.
Firefighters from eight departments from Maine and New Brunswick fought a major fire in downtown Fort Kent early Sunday morning.

FORT KENT, Maine — The cause of the weekend fire that destroyed three historic buildings in downtown Fort Kent may never be known.

“The state fire marshal’s office says the cause of the huge fire will go down as undetermined,” Stephen McCausland, department of public safety spokesman, said in a statement he released Tuesday afternoon. “Investigators said the extensive damage hampered efforts to pinpoint the cause.”

Investigators from the fire marshal’s office had been on the scene since Sunday morning interviewing residents and witnesses to the fire which broke out after midnight Sunday morning.

Investigators were able to determine the fire started inside one of the buildings owned by Nadeau’s House of Furniture and from there spread to two other buildings.

Within minutes of the fire’s being reported, local law enforcement personnel were able to evacuate the occupants of seven apartments on the second floors of the buildings. In all, 11 tenants were left homeless by the blaze.

Destroyed were the historic building housing Nadeau’s House of Furniture in addition to the Acadia Home Care building and a vacant building in-between.

“My first concern when I saw the flames were the people living in the apartments,” Nadeau’s House of Furniture owner Pat Labbe said Monday. “When I looked and saw them all lined up across the street, I was overcome with emotion.”

Most of those tenants escaped with only the clothes on their backs and fundraising efforts have sprung up around Fort Kent to help those displaced by the fire.

Spearheading one of the initiatives is Alan Susee, owner of the Sears store located directly across the street from the fire scene.

Sears, along with neighboring Radio Shack and Roger’s Sports Center, sustained some cosmetic and minor structural damage due to the fire’s extreme heat which melted signs and cracked windows.

Susee is quick to acknowledge the work of the firefighters in saving his and the other businesses.

Nine fire departments from Maine and New Brunswick responded to the fire and used water pumped directly from the nearby St. John River to fight the fire.

“I feel so fortunate to have escaped this [fire] relatively unscathed,” Susee said Monday. “I care about people and it is tragic they have lost everything they own.”

His Sears store and Norstate Federal Credit Union are now the official collection points for cash donations for victims of the fire.

By Tuesday insurance adjusters had met or contacted building owners and, in the case of the Labbes’ property, ended up conducting the meeting in a private location.

“We couldn’t get anything done here,” Ellery Labbe said from his son’s flooring store. “People kept coming in to ask how we are doing and to offer help. The [insurance representative] said he’d never seen anything like it.”

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