ELLSWORTH, Maine — A Sunday night structure fire at a local bird sanctuary that did not injure any animals or humans is being investigated by state fire investigators, according to the local fire chief.
The fire caused significant damage to the former home of Cordelia J. Stanwood, after whom the Stanwood Wildlife Sanctuary is named, Ellsworth fire Chief Richard Tupper said Monday. He said firefighters were able to contain much of the fire damage to the rear of the building, which might be salvageable.
“The front half of the building sustained a lot of heat and smoke damage,” Tupper said.
Investigators with the state fire marshal’s office were at the scene Monday morning, he said.
The house, originally built in the mid-1800s, was restored in the 1950s and has been maintained as a museum since 1960, according to the sanctuary website. The sanctuary, which is home to birds such as owls and hawks that have have been injured and are unable to return to the wild, is also known as Birdsacre.
Grayson Richmond, president of the sanctuary, said Monday afternoon that staff had been unable to determine the extent of damage to the contents of the home. State investigators were still examining the house and not letting others inside, he said.
“We’re still in shell shock and in the dark,” Richmond said. “The chairs [Stanwood] sat in are still there. Her clothes are still there.”
Richmond added that a “very valuable” book collection in the home may have been destroyed. The sanctuary had Stanwood’s field notes digitized last year, he said, preserving that information. The glass plate negatives of the photos she took are in vault storage at a local bank.
He said the building was not insured because the insurance company objected to the presence of old heating stoves in the house, even though the stoves were never used. The building remains structurally sound, he said, but whether it can be restored again may not be known for a while.
“This will be a test to see if the community will be interested in saving the building again,” Richmond said.
There are a handful of buildings on the 200-acre property, including a nature center with exhibits and several bird enclosures. No other buildings were damaged in the fire.
Tupper said the fire was reported at around 6:15 p.m. Sunday by a passerby who saw smoke coming out of the front of the building. Responding firefighters found fire in the back of the old house when they arrived a few minutes later, he said.
The building had been closed as it is each winter by sanctuary staff, Tupper said, and was unoccupied.
Between 35 and 40 firefighters from Ellsworth, Hancock, Lamoine and Trenton went to the blaze, while more from Dedham stood by in case they were needed, according to the chief. County Ambulance and Ellsworth Police Department also assisted.
Tupper said the narrow, one-way section of Route 3 that passes the property was shut down for about three hours while firefighters were at the property. He said through traffic between Ellsworth and Mount Desert Island was re-routed to Short Street, Downeast Highway and Myrick Street.