NEWPORT, Maine — A local landmark burned to the ground Thursday night in a stubborn fire that was still burning Friday afternoon.
No one was injured, but the building and all of its contents — including a large number of antiques — were reduced to ashes and rubble. Firefighters from seven towns spent most of the night battling the fire.
Firefighters were called to Bar-L Hill Road in Newport, just off Route 7, at about 9:30 p.m. Thursday to find the former Bar-L Ranch, which for several decades was a popular dance hall and bottle club, engulfed in flames.
“That’s a lot of memories gone up in smoke,” said James Ready, who owned the structure for several years beginning in 1967 and who still lives nearby. Ready said he sensed something was amiss Thursday night when his black Labrador, Sam, spent less time than usual outside. Then he noticed flames flickering in the windows of a house across Route 7.
Judy McKenzie, who lives near the site of the fire and who also used to own the Bar-L Ranch, also saw the flames as a reflection flickering in a window. She was one of the people who called 911.
“I’m so glad there was no wind last night,” said McKenzie. “The air was absolutely still.”
Newport Fire Chief Jeff Chretien said the first crews on the scene found the building fully involved in flames with portions of the roof already sagging. That ruled out sending firefighters into the building, which prolonged the effort to put the flames out until after 3 a.m. Friday. Late in the night, an excavator was brought in to knock down outside walls so firefighters could reach the flames with water. They also doused surrounding grass and trees to protect nearby homes and huge apple orchards in the area.
“It was pretty much a losing battle by the time we got here,” Chretien said.
By morning the building had burned to the ground and was still smoldering throughout the day Friday. Newport fire crews returned at least twice to extinguish flare-ups.
McKenzie said the building dated back nearly 100 years, starting out as a horse ranch. For at least 60 years, though, it was a dance hall frequented by revelers from as far away as Waterville and Bangor.
Ready said he regularly drew 500 people on a Saturday night for country music with similar but younger crowds turning out on Friday for rock ’n’ roll.
“I had every band in the state at one time or another, I guess,” Ready said. “Either they weren’t any good or if they were good, they were fighting with each other and broke up.”
Regardless of the quality of the music, the Bar-L Ranch was a place where people went for a good time.
“It had the best hardwood dance floor in the state,” said Ready. “When you had 100 people in there dancing, you couldn’t get out of step because the floor moved along with the people.”
More recently, the building housed a fabric retail business called Robin’s Nest Fabric Shop, but that business moved out several years ago.
Chretien said he is unsure what caused the fire, though it started on the same end of the building as a furnace room. An investigator was on the scene Friday afternoon, but he declined to answer any questions from the Bangor Daily News.
The building, which is owned by Robert Moleon of Old Town, was insured, said Chretien. Moleon could not be reached for comment. Crews from Newport, Corinna, Dexter, Stetson, Plymouth, Detroit and Pittsfield fought the fire.
“It’s really kind of sad,” said Ready. “This was a landmark. It was a piece of history and now it’s gone.”