June 23, 2018
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Fire destroys MDI carpentry shop

By Bill Trotter, BDN Staff

BAR HARBOR, Maine — An early Tuesday morning fire destroyed a carpentry workshop in the local village of Hulls Cove but did not cause any injuries, according to officials.

The fire at R.L. White & Son was reported around 3 a.m., according to Fire Chief Joey Kane. He said that when firefighters arrived, the two-story structure was fully involved.

R.L. White & Son is a finish carpentry firm with a specialty in restoration and cabinetry work. Power equipment, hand tools and an extensive lumber inventory inside the 4,500-square-foot workshop all were destroyed in the flames.

“I would say [the damage will add up to] several hundred thousand dollars,” Kane said. “The contents are probably as valuable as the building.”

The firm’s insurance company and an investigator with the state fire marshal’s office were at the fire scene Tuesday morning, according to Kane. A backhoe was being used to tear down and pull apart the burning rubble in order to make sure the fire was out.

“We made a decision that the only way to deal with it was to pull it apart with the backhoe,” Kane said.

Nearly 50 firefighters from Bar Harbor, Mount Desert, Southwest Harbor and Trenton responded to the fire, the chief said. Route 3 in Bar Harbor between Norway Drive and Crooked Road was closed Tuesday morning while firefighters fought the fire with a hose that crossed the highway. Local traffic was being allowed on the closed section of Route 3 from the Norway Drive end.

Michael El-Hajj, general manager of the carpentry business, said Tuesday that a connection to the island’s architectural history was destroyed in Tuesday’s blaze. R.L. White was founded in 1903 and had maintained in the shop an array of nearly 1,000 different cutter heads that the business used to replicate old mouldings that are no longer mass-produced. The shop building was constructed in 1928, he said.

The shop also had a large quantity of historic milled lumber, some of which R.L White & Son had kept since it was delivered to Mount Desert Island decades ago by ship. Old-growth pine, mahogany, cherry, cedar, poplar and butternut were some of the wood varieties that could be found in the shop’s lumber inventory.

“I don’t see a lot of [salvageable items] here,” El-Hajj said as he watched the backhoe pull out stacks of charred plywood from the rubble. “It’s very sad. Much of it is irreplaceable. You couldn’t buy it today even if you wanted to.”

El-Hajj said the firm has 12 employees and will get back to work as soon as possible, perhaps as early as Wednesday. About 10 feet away from the destroyed shop, but apparently undamaged by the fire, is another large building that the company will be able to use to in the meantime, he said. The firm is insured, and so should be able to replace modern equipment such as table saws, band saws, planers and other wood cutting devices that were lost in Tuesday’s blaze.

“Everyone [on staff] will continue to be employed,” El-Hajj said. “We’ll be back in action tomorrow.”

Follow BDN reporter Bill Trotter on Twitter at @billtrotter.

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