North Yarmouth’s landmark Westcustogo Grange Hall destroyed by ‘devastating’ fire

Posted Aug. 30, 2013, at 8:03 a.m.
Last modified Aug. 30, 2013, at 3:07 p.m.

NORTH YARMOUTH, Maine —The Westcustogo Grange Hall burned to the ground overnight Thursday and Friday morning in a three-alarm fire that drew firefighters from six area towns. Residents lamented the loss of what many described as the “hub” of North Yarmouth.

Firefighters from six towns responded to the blaze that destroyed what some described as the “hub” of North Yarmouth.

Firefighters arrived at the scene shortly after midnight to discover “pretty much the whole building involved,” North Yarmouth Fire Chief Ricky Plummer said Friday.

A passerby reported the fire just before midnight. Two live-in students at the nearby station arrived with the first engine, Plummer said.

Firefighters launched an exterior attack and found they had “a fairly significant” propane fire to fight. When a “small explosion” erupted after the fire hit the propane tank, which held 350 pounds of propane, flames blazed about 100 feet into the air.

“We had to get fairly close to try to … mitigate the propane situation,” Plummer said. Combined with the humidity, several firefighters suffered heat exhaustion but were treated at the scene before returning to the blaze.

The fire, which in addition to the volunteer North Yarmouth department drew mutual aid from Yarmouth, Cumberland, Falmouth, Pownal and Gray, was under control by 1:30 a.m.

“This is pretty devastating for our town,” Rep. Anne Graham, who lives in North Yarmouth, said Friday morning as she watched an excavator knock down charred walls of the 1950s-era building. “This was where we gathered. We held our annual town meeting here, we held all of our elections here, Boy Scouts, weddings and our Christmas celebration.”

On Thursday, the Cumberland and North Yarmouth recreation department held aerobics classes in the building, Graham and Plummer said.

Plummer said he had been working with the town on “code issues” to bring the building up to modern standards, but he noted that there were “not necessarily safety issues.”

The second floor of the building was closed several months ago because stairways and exits weren’t large enough for the building’s capacity.

Graham said townspeople voted at a June town meeting to spend $50,000 to address the building’s problems.

The Maine Department of Public Safety said Friday afternoon that the cause of the fire will remain undetermined due to the extent of the damage.

The fire started in the left front of the building, which houses the electrical panels, kitchen, office and storage room, according to a statement from Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.

McCausland said the state fire marshal’s office will continue to interview members of the public about the fire, but the investigation of the scene is complete.