'History burning' Fire consumes Cowan Mill

Daryn Slover

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Lewiston firefighters battle the Cowan Mill Fire on Wednesday.

Daryn Slover

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Embers from the Cowan Mill fire ignite the roof of the Bates Mill No. 5, right, in Lewiston on Wednesday.

Cowan Mill Fire
Justin Pelletier

Justin Pelletier/Sun Journal Flames shoot from the windows at the Cowan Mill at Island Point in downtown Lewiston, Maine on Wednesday. The fire had fullyt engulfed the building by the time fire crews got to the scene around 4 p.m.

Justin Pelletier/Sun Journal

Photo taken of the Cowan Mill around 4 p.m.

Justin Pelletier/Sun Journal

spread across the city Wednesday afternoon as the Cowan Mill on the shore of the Androscoggin River went up in flames. Buildings around it were showered with falling cinders.

To see user-sumbited photos of the fire, or to share your own, visit our photo pool on Flickr.

Hours later, firefighters were still battling flames at the demolished mill. Local, state and federal investigators were searching for suspects, but no arrests were expected Wednesday night.

At 4 p.m., flames began shooting from the upper floors of the mill next to Longley
Bridge. Within 15 minutes, most of the roof had collapsed and what sounded like
thunder roared as walls and floors came tumbling down.

Thousands of people
stood on the sides of Main Street watching the intense fire grow bigger,
unaware that another building had caught fire behind them.

That happened at
about 4:20 p.m. when embers from the burning Cowan Mill floated down onto the
roof of Bates Mill No. 5, setting the saw-tooth-roofed building across the street on fire.

Auburn firefighters
rushed to that scene to snuff out the flames before they could engulf Mill
No. 5. Meanwhile, there were reports that fires were starting at the building
housing Espo's Restaurant, close to the burning Cowan Mill.

"Our concern right
now is for other roofs and other buildings," said Lewiston police Chief Michael
Bussiere, who was trying to help control a crowd of several thousand that
clogged the downtown. "We've got major issues with traffic

Police were going
onto rooftops all over the downtown to look for fallen embers in hopes of
preventing further fires from starting. Bussiere said he called in his morning
watch to increase police manpower in the city.

Meanwhile, near
Cowan Mill, witnesses stood incredulous at how ferocious the fire there was
burning and how quickly it had started.

"I've never seen
anything like it in all my life," said Kathy Cyr, who works at a nearby bank.

A moment after she
said it, there was a rolling explosion from across the

"Oh, wow," Cyr said.
"There goes the roof."

By late Wednesday night, police were searching for at least three people to question them about the blaze. No arrests had been made by 10 p.m.

Around that time, a team of investigators from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had arrived in Lewiston to join police and the Fire Marshal's Office in the investigation.

"With a big fire like this, it's not uncommon to have those two agencies come into the investigation," Chief Bussiere said. "The more investigators we have, the better."

Firefighters remained at the scene of the blaze deep into the night, firing jets of water into what had been reduced to a shell of partial brick walls.

Lewiston fire investigators and officials from the State Fire Marshal's Office were waiting to enter the burned ruins so they could search for clues to the origin of the blaze.

The first on the
scene said it did not appear the fire started small. There were no witnesses who
reported smoke before they saw flames. It seemed to happen all at

"That was no
smoldering situation," said Betty Lebel of Sabattus. She was one of dozens who
called 911 after spotting the inferno while driving past.

"Smoke and flames
were coming out of the second level," Lebel said. "To see it burning that
intensely with no firetrucks around ... It was terrible."

Firefighters were
there moments later. They surrounded the building and doused it with jets
of water, but it was clear the mostly abandoned building was going to be
destroyed. The flames roaring through the gutted building grew larger even as
the firefighting effort intensified.

"When it flares up,
you can feel the heat," said Randall Smith, who was standing at least 200 yards
away in a Main Street parking lot.

Lewiston fire
Inspector Paul Ouellette interviewed at least two people within minutes of the
first report of fire. A handful of police detectives were questioning others and
videotaping the crowd for possible use later in their

At about 4:15 p.m.,
police sent out an alert to officers here and in other cities, advising them of
the two teenagers being sought in connection with the blaze.

The Cowan Mill
building recently fell into the hands of local businessman Martin

"It's one of our
greatest landmarks," said Rachel Desgrosseilliers, who works at a nearby museum.
"It was one of the first ones here. We're trying to save them, and now this. It's
sad. That's history burning."

By 5 p.m., Cowan
Mill was still in flames, but the blaze on the roof of the massive Mill No. 5 had been
snuffed out.

"Great job,"
Bussiere said to Auburn fire Chief Wayne Werts. "This is one of the largest
structures in the state. If that had gone up. too, we'd have some serious


Daryn Slover

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal Only the skeleton of the Cowan Mill remains as firefighters get the fire under control on Wednesday.

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 's picture

Susan- Does Fox serve as an

Does Fox serve as an unbiased source or a foil to liberal media outlets?

 's picture

I must agree that the new

I must agree that the new layout is not user friendly at all. Designers should really look at the results of the redesign and FIX it.

 's picture

I think your coverage was

I think your coverage was fine. I'm glad we can enlarge the still photos now, but I agree that the site is less user friendly now.


Dear MaineLitigator, Are you

Dear MaineLitigator,
Are you kidding me? Look at the PPH site? http://pressherald.mainetoday.com/story.php?id=268393&ac=PHnws. They have a brief AP report and nothing else. The AP photo is an SJ photo that moved on the AP wire early on. The PPH is a great Maine newspaper, with a great staff and good people and they cover their area very well, but I hope you never become a judge because you aren't really looking at the evidence in the case of this story.
Our coverage of this story will continue for several more days and as an editor here I promise you we will have more staff assigned to this story, which is important to our community, than any other news outlet in New England. If you click on our live blog coverage above you would also see we kept a conversation going with readers for several hours this p.m. Real editors and reporters answering questions on the fire, traffic, the history of the building and so forth. More than 1,600 people joined that conversation today. The PPH has a total of 5 reader comments, two from the same reader, at this time, about 10:30 p.m.
I'd be happy to answer any coverage questions you have any time. E-mail me at sthistle@sunjournal.com call me with your suggestions, ideas and comments.
My kindest regards,
Scott Thistle
Regional Editor

SCOTT TAYLOR's picture

Stay tuned expat. More info

Stay tuned expat. More info is coming.

 's picture

Hey What happened to the

Hey What happened to the images from earlier?
What happened to the coverage that was on here? One minute there were pictures on line and now there gone.


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