Fryeburg Fair organizers confident they can rebuild by opening

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Firefighters from 20 departments battle flames at the Fryeburg Fairgrounds on Tuesday evening. Fair officials said Wednesday they may be able to replace the two barns that burned and to repair those that were damaged in time for the 168th Blue Ribbon Classic, Sept. 30 to Oct 7. Otherwise, outdoor tents will be used. (Brewster Burns photo)

FRYEBURG — In the 60 years that Rachel Andrews Damon has been attending the Fryeburg Fair, she has never seen anything as bad as the fire that destroyed sheep and cattle barns Tuesday night and left six more buildings with melted fronts.

“The fair is in its 168th year, and I can’t think of anything along these lines that happened,” said Damon, the head of fair publicity. “We’re still regrouping and absorbing what’s happened. The fair is less than three months away, but it’s not an impossibility that we can fix it in time.”

Firefighters were dispatched to the 200-acre fairgrounds at 1154 Main St. just before 7 p.m. to find the sheep barn engulfed in flames, according to Fryeburg Fire Chief Andrew Dufresne.

Strong winds spread the flames to the cattle barn, Dufresne said, but “due to an aggressive attack, we were able to limit the fire to two buildings.”

The sheep and cattle barns, each about 50 by 150 feet, were demolished, and six surrounding buildings were damaged but saved.

Damon said the sheep and cattle barns were two of the fairgrounds’ older buildings.

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The fire caused about $500,000 damage, according to Dufresne, who said the buildings were insured.

John Weston of Weston’s Farm in Fryeburg said the buildings were mostly unoccupied and no one was injured.

“A few wagons were lost, but otherwise we’re talking about cosmetics,” Weston said. “As far as I know, everything has good insurance. Other than the inconvenience of having seven or eight towns come out to fight the fire, the biggest part of this is figuring out the logistics of cleanup and what can be put back together before the fair.”

Weston said a meeting of the Fryeburg Fair board of trustees was scheduled for late Wednesday afternoon to discuss what steps to take next.

“The general feeling right now is that we’re going to meet with some of the superintendents of the fair, specifically sheep and beef, and get a feel for what we can pull together in time for the upcoming fair,” Weston said.

“In some cases, the buildings were minimally framed, so there’s a chance we may be able to rebuild completely before the fair. Otherwise, we have options for outdoor tents.”

He said there was no feeling by anyone that “this year won’t be business as usual.”

“It’s just a case of what we can pull off in time for the first day,” Weston said.

Damon said several fundraising efforts were launched during the fire, but none was sanctioned by the fair.

“We really do appreciate the offers we’ve gotten, whether it’s for help or cash donations,” Damon said. “The offers are very, very kind. We’re asking people to keep an eye on our website and our Facebook page for updates.”

Damon said the fair has “a really special, very historical place” in the hearts of farmers who participate.

“Some of these farmers have been coming for generations, and it’s probably hitting them hard,” she said. “The fair’s only reaction can be to build better for them. We have no choice but to do it, and I like it that way.”

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The cattle and sheep barns on the corner of Oxen Alley and Equine Road — colored in red — were destroyed by Tuesday night’s fire. (Fryeburg Fair handout)

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