ST. FRANCIS, Maine — A St. Francis man woke up just in time early Saturday morning to escape a fire that consumed his home which is attached to the St. Francis Post Office.
Mike Abbott owns the building, the front portion of which the United States Postal Service rents. Abbott fled from the building and was then nearly struck by a live electric wire that fell to the ground as he was making his escape, according to St. Francis Fire Chief Gerald Jandreau.
Abbott was the only person in the building during the fire, and no pets were inside.
About a dozen volunteer St. Francis firefighters responded to the scene at around 2:45 a.m. and were assisted by firefighters from Fort Kent and Allagash.
“It didn’t take long to get a knock down on it,” Jandreau said. “Within 20 minutes we got it under control.”
However, a tin roof on the building hampered the firefighters efforts to fully extinguish the fire as smoke continued to brew underneath.
St. Francis resident Buddy Pelletier, whose father-in-law is St. Francis firefighter Robert Martin, brought in his log loader to peel off the roof.
“That’s what we do in St. Francis,” Jandreau said. “Robert went and got Buddy out of bed.”
Jandreau contacted the Fire Marshall to help investigate the cause of the fire, which originated outside in the back of the building where Abbott lives.
Abbott cannot stay in the home because it was severely damaged by the fire and Jandreau called the American Red Cross to seek assistance for him.
The post office, which is located in the front of the building, received some smoke damage and most likely will be operational again once electricians inspect wiring and clear the way for electricity to be reconnected to the building.
“Everything is secure inside and nobody was hurt; that’s the important thing,” postmaster April Pelletier said.
Pelletier added that in the meantime, the office will be closed to customers as a precaution, although mail carriers will continue with their rural route on Saturday as no mail was destroyed in the fire.
Firefighters were delayed somewhat in their ability to respond to the fire because the person who reported the fire did so by dialing 911 from a cellphone, Jandreau said.
The fire chief explained that when people in the St. Francis area dial 911 from a cellphone, their calls are somehow routed to the Canadian 911 system, and when area residents dial 911 from a landline, the calls are routed to a dispatch in southern Maine. In both cases, help is delayed as dispatchers unfamiliar with St. Francis attempt to figure out where the town is located.
“I tell all the people I can if they have a fire to call (207) 834-5678. That’s the Fort Kent Police Department and they’re our dispatch. It’s much faster,” Jandreau said. “I even say that to people in church once in awhile so everybody knows. It’s a problem in our area.”
Jandreau said he was thankful for the assistance of the other fire departments.
“Mutual Aid from Fort Kent is a Godsend to us. Ever since [Fort Kent Fire Chief] Ed Endee’s been around, mutual aid is picking up and getting better. I couldn’t ask for a better guy to work with,” Jandreau said.
Emera Maine also assisted at the scene.
This story was originally published in the Fiddlehead Focus.