Firefighters still working on hot spots from Mechanic Falls mill fire

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MECHANIC FALLS — Firefighters from eight towns continue to try to extinguish a fire that engulfed an old Lewiston Street mill building Sunday.

Town Manager Zakk Maher said Monday the fire continues to flare up as excavators open previously inaccessible hot spots. Fire crews are being cycled in and out for rest.

He said the State Fire Marshal’s Office is on the scene and the investigation into the fire’s cause is beginning.

PREVIOUS COVERAGE: Blaze destroys old mill in Mechanic Falls

The fire was reported at the former Marcal Paper mill just after 1 p.m. Sunday. Within two hours, crews had drained the town reservoir, according to the town’s Facebook page. After that, it said, more than 30 tankers “began running laps” between a pumping station on Route 11 and Lewiston Street.

The fire created a cloud of thick, black smoke that could be seen for miles. Witnesses reported flames reached as high as 80 feet.

David Stimson, a 75-year-old retired firefighter who now volunteers for the town’s Fire Department, heard the fire call over his radio. He lives up the street from the mill and saw the fire as soon as ghe stepped outside to head to the fire station.

“It was one big ball of flame,” he said.

Stimson and his crew were among the first at the scene. Soon, more than 100 firefighters from 19 departments had responded. By 6 p.m., the fire was roughly 45 percent contained, according to the town’s Facebook post.

A video on Mechanic Falls’ Facebook page shows a decimated building and a firefighter trudging through piles of debris.

The building is owned by local developer Charles Starbird. He declined to comment Monday.

Several businesses were inside the building, including Maine Cycle of Auburn, which used the space as a warehouse for motorcycles and parts; Corcoran Environmental Services, which recycles plastics; Pine Tree Waste, which is owned by Casella Waste Systems; and Northe Woodworking, a cabinet manufacturer.

A GoFundMe page was set up for Northe on Sunday. The fundraising page, which seeks $50,000, had raised almost $1,500 by early Monday afternoon.

The mill complex, which included a number of buildings, has had a variety of owners since it was built in the 1850s. A 1972 Maine Sunday Telegram story listed four owners since World War II alone, including the paper making division of the Pond’s hand cream company, Waterfalls Tissue Co. and International Paper Co.

Marcal was the last paper company to operate the mill. It halted work there in the early 1980s and put the complex up for sale.

According to Eriks Petersons, president of the Mechanic Falls Historical Society, there have been two other significant fires at the site in recent memory. The first occurred in the late 1980s and ended any attempt to restore the complex to a working paper mill.

The second fire, which was not as damaging, happened more than a decade ago.

This story will be updated.

An aerial view Monday morning Oct. 15, 2018, shows the fire scene in Mechanic Falls where a massive fire destroyed a historic mill. The complex served several businesses, including as a warehouse for Maine Cycle, and was filled with motorcycles and parts. Corcoran Environmental Services, which recycles plastics, also operated at the mill. According to Zakk Maher, town manager in Mechanic Falls, the building is owned by Charles Starbird. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Aerial)

MECHANIC FALLS— As a fire Sunday afternoon raged through an old mill in Mechanic Falls, a group of volunteers and community businesses worked to keep dozens of firefighters— from as far away as Gillead— fed, hydrated, and warm.

Brenda Coffin has volunteered at the American Legion Post 150 on Elm Street for 30 years. Around 2 p.m. Sunday, when news of the scope and severity of the fire broke, a group of volunteers transformed the Legion Post into an impromptu refreshment center.

“We’re a community that takes care of people,” said Coffin. “There was an outpouring of help.”

Throughout the afternoon, volunteers loaded up trailers, trucks, and ATVs with coffee, water, and gatorade, delivering to firefighters and traffic workers at the scene of the fire on Lewiston Street.

The American Post  Legion was open all night, and as the night temperatures dipped to near freezing, firefighters packed into the Legion to drink coffee and warm up.

Many of the volunteers worked off and on through the blaze, juggling jobs and commitments with making sandwhiches and homecooked food for the responders.

“The firefighters were thankful,” said Coffin. Coffin said that many of the volunteers knew firefighters who were fighting the blaze, as the Mechanic Falls Fire Department were the first to respond to the calls.

Many local buisnesses donated to the fire, including Davinci’s Eatery in Lewiston, Daddy O’s Diner in Oxford, and Hannaford Supermarket in Mechanic Falls.

Coffin said the Salvation Army brought donated clothing for the two families who had apartments in the mill.

Larry Roy, the owner of Dad’s Place, a Mechanic Falls gas station and restaurant, donated 40 large italians, eight giant pizzas, and twelve gallons of coffee to the firefighters.

“We’re a small community, and my livelihood is based here.”  said Roy. “All of our customers are affected by the fire.”

Coffin said she was reminded of the Ice Storm of 1998 throughout the night, saying the Legion became a similar hub of support during the severe weather.

“When there’s a crisis, you do what you need to do,” said Coffin. “It’s a small town, but we do the best we can.”

Bottles of water pile up at the American Post Legion 150 in Mechanic Falls. Throughout the fire, the legion served as a hub for firefighters, delviering water and food as they battled the blaze. The leftover water will be donated to Vineyard Church in Mechanic Falls.  (Jon Bolduc/Sun Journal.)

An aerial view Monday morning Oct. 15, 2018, shows the fire scene in Mechanic Falls where a massive fire destroyed a historic mill. The complex served several businesses, including as a warehouse for Maine Cycle, and was filled with motorcycles and parts. Corcoran Environmental Services, which recycles plastics, also operated at the mill. According to Zakk Maher, town manager in Mechanic Falls, the building is owned by Charles Starbird. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Aerial)

An aerial view Monday morning Oct. 15, 2018, shows the fire scene in Mechanic Falls where a massive fire destroyed a historic mill. The complex served several businesses, including as a warehouse for Maine Cycle, and was filled with motorcycles and parts. Corcoran Environmental Services, which recycles plastics, also operated at the mill. According to Zakk Maher, town manager in Mechanic Falls, the building is owned by Charles Starbird. (Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal Aerial)

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