30 tenants remain displaced after Washburn fire

Posted Aug. 05, 2013, at 12:33 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 05, 2013, at 4:27 p.m.

WASHBURN, Maine — Managers of a housing complex for the elderly and disabled which was struck by lightning Sunday were on the scene Monday to assess the damage and determine what needs to be done before tenants are allowed to move back in.

Firefighters went at 12:30 p.m. Sunday to the fire at 20 Kim St., which provides housing for elderly and disabled individuals and families. The fire started in the attic in the central portion of the building near the laundry room and was caused by a lightning strike, according to Washburn Fire Chief Troy Heald.

Damage was contained to the center portion of the building, leaving almost all the apartments with only minor smoke damage, Heald said in a press release Sunday night.

“We are working hard to get the compex back in line and the tenants back in,” Shelly O’Rourke, office manager at C.S. Management of Caribou, the building’s owner, said by phone Monday morning. “We have an electrician and our maintenance staff is going in to each individual unit to see what work needs to be done.”

Thirty tenants occupying the 24-apartments were displaced by the fire, according to O’Rourke. Everyone got out safely and those who owned pets either took them with them when they evacuated or were reunited with their animals later that day.

“When I pulled into that driveway [Sunday] and saw the smoke coming out of the building, my first thought was, ‘don’t let anyone be hurt,’” O’Rourke said. “We were so glad everyone was safe.”

On Sunday, the Red Cross provided support for the displaced residents and the Washburn Trailrunners snowmobile club opened their clubhouse for the tenants. The Washburn School Department provided transportation for the tenants and Country Farms Market provided drinks and snacks.

“The community was so supportive,” O’Rourke said. “Some people from the Trailrunners Club set up water, coffee and snacks and at one point someone sent in pizza so everyone could have something to eat.”

Members of the C.S. Management staff met with each tenant Sunday afternoon, O’Rourke said, initially to see to their immediate needs.

“These people had to evacuate with no medications,” she said. “We took a list from each tenant on what they needed and where we could find the medications and if there were any pets left behind.”

Eventually, the fire department allowed tenants to access their apartments in the company of a firefighter to retrieve any necessary medications and items.

Power needs to be restored to the complex before the tenants are allowed to move back in, O’Rourke said.

Most are staying with family and a few are in local hotels, according to Bev Turner, Washburn town manager, who said on Monday she was pleased with how her town rallied in the face of the fire.

“This is absolutely a community where friends look out for each other,” Turner said. “Everybody chipped in and it went as well as possible.”

O’Rourke said her company is moving as quickly as possible to get the tenants back home.

“Most of the apartments are not damaged,” she said. “There is some smoke in the common areas, but when you are in the apartments, you don’t smell it.”

A cleaning service has been contacted to begin smoke damage abatement, she added.

As of late Monday morning, O’Rourke said she did not have a time frame on when those tenants will be allowed back in, or of the monetary damage.

“We are still assessing,” she said. “I am hoping by the end of the day we will know a little more.”

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