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At least seven people were displaced, but no one was reported hurt, after a fire devastated several buildings in the heart of Old Town’s downtown late Saturday night.
The fire was reported at 274 Main St. just before 10 p.m., a dispatcher at the Penobscot County Regional Communications Center said just after midnight Sunday. That building houses Serenity Salon and Spa on the ground floor as well as apartments above it.
The sounds of sirens from responding fire engines broke the nighttime stillness and startled many around the community. Theresa Vinson of Milford said that when she heard the sirens, she and a neighbor walked downtown to see what was happening.
“It was pretty amazing. It was very awe-inspiring to see the fire department working. That fire was massive, and spreading quickly,” she said Sunday morning, adding that she’s rarely seen more activity downtown. “It’s such a quiet town to begin with. This was more action than a parade.”
The Maine fire marshal’s office has not determined a cause, according to Scott Wilcox, the Old Town public safety director, who also said that Main Street will be closed until Monday because of questions about the structural integrity of the buildings there.
“Tomorrow we’re hoping to have structural engineers in to give the official word,” he said.
The fire also ripped through neighboring buildings that housed businesses, including the Cutting Edge and Simple Things & Sweets, and apartments. The block in the heart of the city’s downtown where the fire started is home to Yamas Bar and Grill, the Penobscot Times and the Old Town Water District offices as well.
Firefighters from all over responded to the blaze, including the communities of Bangor, Orono, Milford and Howland, according to one bystander. Old Town fire Capt. John Kokoska said that towns as far away as Holden and Hermon came to help, and that the firefighters worked until the early morning hours to still the flames.
Photos of the aftermath of the fire Sunday morning showed a mess, with ash, wood and other building debris on Main Street. The building at 270 Main St., adjacent to Yamas Bar and Grill, was torn down, leaving a narrow, rubble-filled gap in its place, while lots of fire damage was visible on the top floors of three neighboring buildings.
But the rest of the block was still standing, which Matt Dunlap of Old Town called a victory for the firefighters and his city.
“I think the real triumph here for the fire department is that they kept that thing contained,” Dunlap, the Maine secretary of state, said Sunday morning. “That was a wild fire. By all rights, the whole block should have gone.”
He saw the fire about 1 a.m., when he came back from a gig as a volunteer auctioneer at an event in Portland. When he left the southern Maine city, his wife had texted him about all the fire trucks downtown. He figured that they’d be done by the time he got home, but that wasn’t the case.
“There was a barricade and nothing but flashing lights,” Dunlap said. “They had three ladder trucks pouring water on the fire … and going at the roof with a chainsaw, trying to fight the fire.”
He ran into some people he knew downtown, who told him that a man living in one of the upstairs apartments had smelled smoke and gone into the hallway to check it out but didn’t see anything.
“He went back into the apartment and saw smoke pouring out of the ceiling,” Dunlap said. “It was just that quick.”
The scene remained “very active” late into the night, according to the Penobscot County dispatcher. The city of Old Town said in an early Sunday morning statement that Main and Water streets will remain closed near the scene.
Ann Kim, a spokeswoman for the American Red Cross in Maine, said Sunday that it was helping seven people who were displaced by the fire.
Old Town residents were relieved that no residents or firefighters were hurt and that the fire damage wasn’t worse, but it was still a very hard blow for a city that’s trying to reinvent itself, they said.
“We’ve been watching businesses slowly being revived in that area. It’s taking so long — it’s very sad,” Vinson said. “We’re hopeful that they can rebuild.”