CAMDEN, Maine — About 40 area firefighters are gearing up to burn down the former Lotus Chinese Restaurant on Route 1 this weekend in a training exercise the fire chief said should provide them with an unusually realistic experience.
“In terms of educational opportunities for firefighters, this is about as real as it gets,” Camden Fire Chief Chris Farley said Friday.
The 7,000 square foot restaurant and attached apartment was built in 1970 and has served as home for the restaurant for many years until its recent closure. Hannaford Bros. Co., which has a store on adjacent property, purchased the building in 2007 for $975,000, and is giving it to the fire department to burn down.
“My understanding is that the building is in bad shape. We’re hoping that there can be community value in having this done,” Hannaford spokesman Eric Blom said.
After the controlled burn takes place Sunday evening, the company will hire a contractor to remove the debris and landscape the property, he said, adding that there are no current plans to develop the site.
The town of Camden values the building at $335,300 and the land at $252,600.
According to Farley, he was contacted by Hannaford in October about the controlled burn project and worked with the company throughout the fall to make it happen. He and firefighters already have been using the Lotus building for training, including ventilation exercises and firefighter self-rescue techniques.
He said that Hannaford has removed hazards from the building, such as fuels and asbestos, so that the burn will likely pose fewer health hazards than when a house or commercial building catches on fire.
Over the course of the weekend, firefighters from Camden, Hope, Lincolnville and Rockport will do training exercises, including a search for mannequins that will be located in places where visibility is reduced. The building will be burned at about 6 p.m. Sunday, and Farley urged motorists to drive slowly on Route 1 as they pass the fire scene.
“We wanted to have as minimal impact on traffic as we could,” he said.