Lawyers regroup after fire

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LEWISTON – Lawyer Chris L’Hommedieu learned the value of metal filing cabinets Thursday morning.

Returning to the charred remains of his office at 54 Pine St., L’Hommedieu opened a burned filing cabinet out of curiosity. The paper files inside remained safe, like nothing had ever happened.

He pointed to a row of cheaper cardboard filing boxes, burnt to a crisp inside and out.

“Don’t bother with cardboard or the plastic ones,” he said. “They’re useless.”

L’Hommedieu and his neighbors were ousted from their offices by a fire early Wednesday at the historic Bradford House, across from Kennedy Park.

“But we’re lawyers, all of us, and that’s what matters the most,” L’Hommedieu said. “Clients come first, burnt buildings second. We’re all still in business. We won’t miss a beat.”

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. Wednesday. They began returning to quarters by 5:30 a.m., believing they’d extinguished the last of the flames.

They were called back 20 minutes later, when smoke was spotted seeping from the rear wall of the top story.

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 a third-floor storage area.

Fire Inspector Paul Ouellette said Thursday that the cause was still under investigation.

“Nothing has changed since we left the scene Wednesday morning,” Ouellette said. Damage to the building and its contents was estimated at more than $1 million.

The building was home to three law firms: Cote, Cote, Hamann and Fournier on the first floor and L’Hommedieu and John Whalen on the second floor.

L’Hommedieu said he was back in court Thursday morning. He’d taken the paper files for those cases home with him to study over the July 4 holiday.

“And I’ll be back Friday morning,” he said.

Salvage crews were on the scene Thursday afternoon repairing some of the damage and cleaning up the soggy debris. The building is owned by Eighth District Court Judge Paul Cote and his mother, Joan.

It was designed by architect George Coombs, who was also responsible for the First National Bank Building at 157 Main St., the Grant’s Clothing Building at 46 Lisbon St. and the original Lewiston Public Library.

The building was originally designed as a private home and office space for homeopathic physician Dr. William Bradford in 1876. He practiced there for 50 years.

L’Hommedieu said he didn’t know what would happen to the building but the lawyers are talking about staying together.

“We’re all good friends, but where we go hasn’t been decided yet,” he said.

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