$1M in damage as blaze chars Bradford House

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LEWISTON – A historical building that housed three law offices sustained roughly $1 million damage after a fire crawled from basement to attic and burned through the roof early Wednesday morning, a fire official said.

Firefighters were alerted to the blaze at the rear of the basement at The Bradford House at 54-56 Pine St. shortly before 4:30 a.m., said Paul Ouellette, a Lewiston fire investigator.

Firefighters believed they had put out the fire by 5:30 a.m. They had rolled up hoses and some trucks had already returned to quarters when smoke was spotted seeping from the rear wall of the top story about 20 minutes later.

Officials said the cause of the fire remains under investigation and they haven’t determined whether or not it’s suspicious. Ouellette estimated about $1 million in damage to the building and its contents. The building was insured, he said.

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Three law offices worked out of the building. On the first floor: Cote, Hamann and Fournier; on the second floor, Chris L’Hommedieu and, across the hall, John Whalen.

The fire apparently started in the basement at the rear of the late 1880s-vintage building and burned a small portion of the first floor. Flames later made their way up a pipe chase to the third-floor, which was used as a storage area, Ouellette said.

Smoke filled the attic, followed by flames. Firefighters worked off ladders in an effort to bring the blaze under control. Ladder trucks from Auburn and Lisbon also were on the scene.

The third floor was a total loss, Ouellette said. The second floor was heavily damaged by smoke and water along with most of the first floor.

Eighth District Court Judge Paul Cote and his mother, Joan, the owner of the building, took in the scene as did most of the lawyers who worked in the building.

L’Hommedieu said he rushed to the building, having been notified by the judge. He said he first watched as firefighters started to clear the scene when he noticed smoke coming from the top floor.

“It just sort of exploded into flames,” he said.

Two firefighters on a ladder near the attic windows had to bend down and put their helmets in the direction of the blaze to escape the heat, he said.

After working at the building for about five years, L’Hommedieu said he had accumulated a lot of client information, in both paper and electronic files.

One of the firefighters climbed to L’Hommedieu’s second floor office and retrieved his computer. It appeared to be intact, he said.

“I’m almost certain the data will be fine,” he said. Paper files were kept in metal file cabinets, some of them fire resistant, he said, adding they were likely to survive the heat and flames.

L’Hommedieu said he was impressed by the dedication and courage firefighters showed while battling the blaze.

“You don’t really appreciate how insane these guys are to try to save somebody else’s pieces of paper,” he said.

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