Lightning strike may have caused fire behind library

Posted May 29, 2012, at 6:20 p.m.

HARPSWELL, Maine — Fire officials believe a lightning strike ignited the propane fire that claimed a storage shed just yards behind the Orr’s Island Library early Tuesday morning.

The shed was lost in the 5 a.m. blaze, according to Ron Chipman, a Harpswell Neck Fire Department captain, but the library was unharmed.

“If the library would have become involved it could have been a really bad fire,” Chipman said.

Firefighters from Harpswell’s three departments worked for around three hours to contain the blaze and keep propane tanks cool while the fuel burned off, Chipman said.

“There were three large tanks that had just been filled — there was a lot of propane there — and the potential for explosion was our largest concern,” Chipman said.

If the tanks were to get too hot, Chipman said, the fuel could boil, causing the pressure inside the tank to increase and eventually explode.

“The fire departments did an excellent job,” library treasurer John Webster said. “We’re just fortunate that our 107-year-old building was unscathed.”

Chipman said firefighters kept water on the back of the library building in efforts to prevent the fire from spreading.

With the loss of the shed, Webster said that tents for the library’s August book sale and oak chairs from the library’s main reading room were destroyed.

“These were beautiful old oak chairs,” Webster said. “Those will be hard to replace.”

Webster said those chairs were removed Monday to make way for the renovation of that reading room, scheduled to begin next week.

Chipman said firefighters found no clear evidence that a lightning strike caused the fire but a neighbor who reported the blaze heard booming thunder just before noticing the conflagration.

Some neighbors were evacuated from nearby homes while the fire was contained, Chipman said.

Firefighters from the Orr’s and Bailey Islands Fire Department were first on the scene at 1699 Harpswell Islands Road and made a call for mutual aid from the Harpswell Neck and Cundy’s Harbor fire departments as thunderstorms rolled through Harpswell around 5 a.m.

As the library looks to replace tents and other items from the loss in the fire, Webster said donations for the library can be sent to P.O. Box 175, Orr’s Island, 04066.

The Sun Journal of Lewiston reported Tuesday morning that a lightning strike is believed to have cause a fire that destroyed a garage in Mexico around 8 a.m.

To see more from The Times Record, visit timesrecord.com.

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