MADAWASKA, Maine — Between 60 and 70 firefighters from Madawaska and Edmundston, New Brunswick, some of whom had been up all night fighting a house fire in Edmundston, were back dousing flames Tuesday afternoon at an apartment building on 11th Avenue in Madawaska.
The Madawaska fire is believed to have started in a wall on the third floor and was reported about 2:15 p.m. Tuesday, according to Peter Parent, Madawaska’s interim fire chief.
Parent said four of the six apartments in the building were occupied by the owners, their two children and three tenants. All seven residents and two cats were safe, Parent said.
At about 5 p.m., a payloader was brought in to tear the building down as firefighters continued to hose down what was left of the still-burning structure. Parent said firefighters were treating it as a controlled burn and trying to prevent the flames from spreading to another building located just four feet away. He was confident firefighters had saved the nearby building.
As the temperature hovered around 80 degrees Tuesday afternoon, one Madawaska firefighter had to be taken by ambulance to Northern Maine Medical Center in Fort Kent to be treated for heat exhaustion. Parent said the firefighter was OK.
Parent said the same crew of Edmundston firefighters and four members of the Madawaska Fire Department had been up until 4 a.m. fighting a house fire in Edmundston.
In Madawaska, building owners Dr. Nelson and Rachel Henry, who occupied a first-floor apartment with their two children, only could watch as their home and belongings were destroyed by the combination of fire, water and the payloader.
“Everything is gone,” Rachel Henry said. “It was such a beautiful old building.”
Nelson Henry, a dentist practicing in a nearby office building, was in the middle of a procedure when he got word his home was on fire. He could not immediately leave to see for himself.
“What a crazy, crazy thing,” he said as the payloader tore through what was left of the building. “I really loved that building.”
The structure was insured, he added.
The Henrys were not home when the fire began but Rachel Henry said she arrived soon after and was able to rescue her two cats before firefighters told her to leave and did not let her back inside.
Tenant Bill Foster, who lived in the other first-floor apartment of the 11th Avenue building, said he was inside when a passer-by ran up on his porch and yelled to him to get out of the building because he saw smoke.
Foster said he grabbed a fire extinguisher and ran outside. He said that after he saw a little bit of smoke coming out of the third floor, he and the passer-by, whose name he did not know, ran up to see if anyone was still in that apartment.
Foster said the door was open and there was no one in the apartment but they could see smoke coming out of the wall. Foster said that’s when the passer-by, who told Foster he was a former firefighter, told him that it was probably “an electrical fire and we need to get out of here.”
Not thinking it was a serious fire, Foster said he had planned to sit on his porch to watch the firefighters put the fire out.
“The firemen showed up and began running hoses up the stairs,” Foster said. “At that point I began to realize it was more serious and I was not going to get back inside.”
Foster gestured to the building where flames and smoke were clearly visible. “I was going to put that out with my little fire extinguisher,” he said. “But it just kept getting worse and worse.”
Don Cyr, a longtime Madawaska resident, said his father once owned the building which he said was once the home of the Catholic order of brothers who taught in the town’s schools.
“My dad bought it around 1960 and converted it to apartments,” Cyr said. “It’s sad to see it come down.”
Rachel Henry said as far as she knew all the tenants had found temporary lodging with family and friends for the time being.