NORTHPORT, Maine — Crews fighting the fire at the former Hideaway Diner on Route 1 Monday night had a hard job, Northport Fire Chief Paul Rooney said, that was further complicated by obstructions in the building and the structure’s metal roof.
“It was absolutely packed full of stuff, from one end to another,” he said. “You opened the doors and couldn’t walk through. I couldn’t risk putting fire fighters in that.”
After fighting the fire for about six hours, Rooney said he decided to “call it quits.”
“It’s like whack-a-mole. You put out a fire in one spot and it starts on the other side. It was fruitless,” he said, adding that the firefighters were getting tired and he was worried about potential injuries.
Northport firefighters returned early Tuesday morning and found the remains of the building still burning. They soaked it with water until an excavator could get there to demolish it.
Roberta Morgan, who lived in the apartment above the former restaurant space with her adult son, Robert Morgan, and another person, said she believed she had lost two pets — a Chihuahua and a cockatiel — to the fire.
“The last time I had a fire, my son was 11 months old,” she said on Monday, while watching the building burn. “He was the only thing I saved from that fire.”
The Red Cross is working to help the family find housing.
The fire was initially reported by the Belmont fire chief, who happened to be driving by and saw smoke coming from behind the building, Rooney said. The Belmont chief called Rooney to ask if he issued a burn permit.
He had not.
The Belmont chief wasn’t equipped with firefighting gear but walked around the former diner to investigate and found a pile of debris burning freely. The Northport fire crew got to the scene within a few minutes later, Rooney said, but the fire had already entered the building.
“It was definitely in the piles of stuff out back. We don’t know why,” Rooney said.
Fire crews from Northport, Belfast, Lincolnville and Belmont — as many as 25 or 30 firefighters at one point — worked from about 5 to 11:30 p.m. Monday to extinguish the fire.
Investigators from the Maine state fire marshal’s office will inspect the scene, Rooney said, but he doesn’t know if they’ll be able to find any clues on how the fire started from the piles of rubble that remain.
“I imagine it’s going to be labeled undetermined at the end of it,” Rooney said.