January 22, 2019
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Second Sanford mill fire deemed suspicious

Tammy Wells | Journal Tribune
Tammy Wells | Journal Tribune
A fire in the front tower of the Stenton Trust mill on River Street in Sanford Thursday morning was quick knocked down. The fire was no where near the magnitude of the blaze that gutted there rear tower of the vacant mill June 23, but outlines the need for demolition, city officials say.

SANFORD — A two-alarm fire at Stenton Trust Mill on River Street was quickly extinguished on Thursday by firefighters using ladder trucks to climb inside and attack the blaze.

Late Thursday afternoon, Sanford Fire Marshal Patrick Cotter said the fire is considered suspicious. He said it remains under investigation by him and by the State Fire Marshal’s Office. Cotter said the fire is believed to have started on the second floor of the structure.

It was the second fire in the 13 River St. mill in recent months — the rear tower was gutted in a massive blaze June 23 — so massive that it was deemed far too dangerous for firefighters to venture into the rear structure.

The mill has been vacant for at least a decade.

On Thursday, firefighters from around the region responded to a fire in the front tower, nearest the street. A the scene, City Manager Steve Buck said the fire was reported at 6:34 a.m. and a second alarm was sounded about 30 minutes later. He said firefighters were spraying foam in between the walls to get at the blaze.

The fire was quickly knocked down and by shortly after 8 a.m., some responding fire companies were able to leave.

Among those watching firefighters work was Councilor Luke Lanigan.

“Anytime we have to send firefighters into a placarded (condemned) building, it becomes a life safety issue,” said Lanigan. “We need to look at securing money to tear these down so we don’t put firefighters and first responders in jeopardy, because that’s really all that matters.”

The city is awaiting word from the Environmental Protection Agency, which is attempting to determine whether they can help the city demolish the building. Cost of demolition is expected to exceed $1 million.

Soon after the June 23 fire, the City Council unanimously agreed that both towers should be demolished.

Mayor Tom Cote believes that remains the best solution.

“Public safety is our top priority, this includes our first responders and the many people living adjacent to the mills,” said Cote in an email. “I remain convinced that the both towers should be taken down to prevent further issues. The demolition of both towers would also provide an opportunity for redevelopment of a significant portion of our downtown. Obviously, we are still pursuing avenues to help fund the demolition and clean-up of the area and this has caused the delay we are currently experiencing. It’s important we exhaust all options before approaching the taxpayers to fund the clean-up effort.”

Three boys, ages 12 and 13, were charged in connection with the June 23 fire; two of the boys have pleaded guilty to a lesser charge and were sentenced to a year’s probation. A hearing involving the third boy originally scheduled for Oct. 26 has been continued.

The city quickly moved to have the area around the vacant mill building fenced following the June 23 fire and no one is supposed to be inside — though some say people have breached the fence.

According to city records, the mill and the 6.8 acres it sits on is owned by Gateway Properties LLC, a company owned by Jonathan Morse who purchased the mill in 1999. Morse now has a Reno, Nevada address, and has apparently said he no longer owns the property, though city records show he does. Property taxes have gone unpaid for years.

Among the departments on the scene Thursday morning aiding Sanford were Wells, Acton, Alfred, Lebanon, Kennebunk and North Berwick EMS.

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