FARMINGTON, Maine — At about 4 a.m. on a Saturday morning in July, fire tones sounded across Franklin County.
Help was needed for a deadly oil train derailment and fire in Lac-Megantic, Quebec.
Representatives from seven Franklin County fire departments responded under the leadership of Emergency Management Director Tim Hardy.
“Maine people know what it means to be a good neighbor,” U.S. Rep. Mike Michaud said at a Lac-Megantic benefit concert held Saturday night at the University of Maine at Farmington.
Some of those firefighters from Chesterville, Eustis, Farmington, East Dixfield, New Vineyard, Phillips, Rangeley and Strong stood on stage behind Michaud, along with Lac-Megantic Mayor Colette Roy Laroche, Farmington Selectman Joshua Bell and concert organizers Ryan Morgan, a Farmington selectman, and state Sen. Thomas Saviello, R-Wilton.
Local musicians provided entertainment for the mayor and other Canadian officials and the more than 200 people who came to support the county’s northern neighbors.
Morgan, Saviello and Bell presented the mayor with a check for $32,000 donated by Maine residents and towns to a Lac-Megantic Relief Fund.
Funds earned Saturday night through ticket sales and a silent auction will be added to the bank account. It will continue for a while, Morgan said. Eventually, they will take the rest of the donations to Lac-Megantic.
Both, Morgan and Saveillo said they were pleased with the turnout and especially the effort made by Michaud who flew in from Washington on Saturday to participate in the concert.
Morgan and Saviello traveled to Lac-Megantic in July to see what would help the town most. The train derailment caused nearly 50 deaths and destroyed the downtown. Forty buildings were destroyed and 2,000 people were evacuated from their homes.
As the town started a recovery effort, residents found what they needed most was money. Farmington selectmen began a relief fund with donations taken through TD Bank.
Today, Lac-Megantic is all right but it has “a long road ahead,” Roy Laroche said through her translator, Louis Longchamps, before the concert.
The downtown was not only devastated by the initial fire but is now polluted and facing a long cleanup effort, she said.
“The businesspeople won’t be able to go back into the area until June of next year,” she said.
Some people lost their jobs when the downtown was destroyed, but some have found other jobs and some businesses are trying to relocate and restart before Christmas, she said.
“There’s no normal routine to life,” she said. “Every day it’s something different.”
The mayor was surprised Saturday night when a third cousin showed up at the concert with a photo of her parents from 1940.
Thomas Valley of Augusta read about the tragedy in Lac-Megantic and noticed the mayor’s name. His mother was a Roy, he said. He questioned her about family relations and found his mother and the mayor’s mother were cousins, he said.
He came to the concert early to meet his cousin for the first time, he said.
Thanking the firefighters who responded on July 6, “there is one unsung hero,” Morgan said. Franklin County EMA Director Tim Hardy received a standing ovation for mobilizing the departments.
It was a day that most of the firefighters won’t forget.
When that tone went off in East Dixfield, firefighter Amanda Marchetti held off responding, she said. There were probably so many going who would cover the county.
Her fire chief called to tell her Brett Osgood was interested in going, too, she said. The chief gave her $20 from his own pocket for gas and the two East Dixfield firefighters went to help.
“It was like being on the set of a movie,” Marchetti said of the fire. Flames from the oil shot up from manholes. Without a truck, the two helped by supplying water in an effort to keep the train cars cool, she said.
State Sen. John Patrick, D-Rumford, read a legislative sentiment honoring the efforts of the seven fire departments of Western Maine who “played an integral part in getting the fire under control.”
Farmington and Lac-Megantic became sister cities in 1991. They are about 100 miles apart in driving distance.