HOULTON, Maine — Officials may never know the cause of an early Wednesday morning fire that destroyed the Ark Animal Sanctuary building, where 16 cats housed in the shelter perished in the blaze.
An agent with United States Customs and Border Protection spotted smoke coming from the structure at 91 Old Woodstock Road around 3 a.m. and went to investigate, according to Milton Cone, Houlton fire chief.
Cone said Wednesday morning that the building was engulfed in flames when the fire was discovered.
He said three trucks and 23 firefighters were on the scene by 3:17 a.m. but had to wait to approach the building due to a fallen electrical line.
Crews remained on the scene until 5 a.m.
“We have no idea of the cause,” Cone said. “Unfortunately, the building was destroyed and so was any evidence inside.”
The building was heated by a pellet stove, the chief added, saying there was also an electrical heater, but he was told it had not been turned on Tuesday night.
Sanctuary operator Lorraine Monfils, who owns Hollywood Pet Salon in Houlton with her husband Robert, was in the building Tuesday.
“We are trying to wrap our heads around what happened,” a tearful Monfils said Wednesday morning from her shop. “We lost 16 cats, and there is no building anymore, [but] we can rebuild. We can’t bring back the cats, and that is something we are going to have to deal with.”
In 2010, the sanctuary held a variety of fundraisers to secure land and a new building. Media attention resulted in the donation of a building, and the organization had a grand opening in November.
“Now it’s all gone,” Monfils said. “We had just gone through the cat cages, and there was the washer and dryer, the freezer and everything else we need to operate, [and] nothing is salvageable.”
Monfils said she got the call about the fire soon after it broke, and she and her husband went to the scene immediately.
“My husband and I just stood there and watched the walls fall,” she said. “Those 16 cats, that’s the most difficult part; we can work hard to rebuild, but we can’t bring them back.”
People have been coming into her shop all Wednesday morning offering support and financial donations, Monfils said.
“We still want to continue our work,” she said. “We will figure it out.”
Anyone interested in making a donation to the Ark Animal Sanctuary may send it care of Lorrain Monfils at 70 Main St., Houlton, ME, 04730.