Mechanic Falls mill was uninsured at time of blaze

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Firefighters remain on the scene Tuesday of the former Marcal Paper Mill in Mechanic Falls. The complex was destroyed by fire Sunday. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

MECHANIC FALLS — The owner of the former Marcal Paper Mill said Tuesday he did not have insurance on the buildings that were destroyed by fire Sunday.

Mechanic Falls firefighters and Public Works personnel continue to soak hot spots Tuesday afternoon at the former Marcal Paper Mill that burned Sunday. (Andree Kehn/Sun Journal)

Charles Starbird bought the mill about 10 years ago. He said he had insured the property when there was a mortgage on it, but he dropped his insurance after the mortgage was paid because the coverage was too expensive.

“People in town, I’m sure they think Chuck and (his wife) Colleen just made $20 million bucks,” he said. “I wish that story to be true, but there was zero insurance on that complex.”

Starbird said the 380,000-square-foot building was last appraised at $8 million.

Investigators from the Office of State Fire Marshal and agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives completed their work at the site Tuesday, but the cause of the fire remained unknown.

Investigators believe the blaze started in the first floor storage area on the south end of the mill, according to a statement from the Fire Marshals Office that was released Tuesday through Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.

Investigators are analyzing photographs and interviews to determine how the fire started, but officials said the building’s extensive damage will make it difficult to say conclusively what caused the blaze.

The Fire Marshals Office said its work has been made easier with help from the Mechanic Falls Fire Department, debris-clearing by the town’s Public Works Department, use of the Oxford Fire Department’s aerial tower as an observation platform and overnight scene security from the Mechanic Falls Police Department.

The 1850s-era mill building was home to a handful of businesses, two occupied apartments, Starbird’s workshop and a storage facility where individuals kept their boats and other vehicles over the winter.

Pine Tree Waste, which is owned by Casella Waste Systems, also rented space in the complex, but it was in another building unattached to the area that burned and not damaged by the fire, Starbird said. A residential camper on the site was also unaffected.

Starbird said he has stage 4 lung and bone cancer and is not expected to live long. The mill’s rents were supposed to support his wife when he could not any longer.

“We struggled to get it paid for, but we did get it paid for,” he said. “That was to be my wife’s income for the rest of her life.”

Starbird said he was not sure what he will do now, although he would like to rebuild at the site.

The fire was reported at the mill just after 1 p.m. Sunday. More than 100 firefighters from 19 departments responded.

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

Within two hours, crews had drained the Mechanic Falls 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.

Two days later, firefighters continued to work on fully extinguishing the fire. Town Manager Zakk Maher said Tuesday afternoon that crews were still pulling out burning bales of paper from Corcoran Environmental Services, a recycler that rented space in the building.

The building was in rubble Tuesday. At least three businesses that rented space lost property, including Corcoran; Maine Cycle of Auburn, which used the space as a warehouse for motorcycles and parts; and Northe Woodworking, a cabinet manufacturer.

Patrick Letourneau, co-owner of Northe Woodworking, said he and his business partner lost almost all of their tools and four projects they were completing for clients.

“We have to work with the customers for those ones to kind of figure out when we’re going to be able to get them back to them or rebuild them,” Letourneau said.

He estimated a loss of about $50,000 for Northe Woodworking.

The business has insurance, Letourneau said, but it covers only tools. The insurance will not pay for the projects or the structure Northe had built inside the mill to make its 2,000 square feet of open space usable.

A GoFundMe page was set up for the business Sunday. The fundraising page, which seeks $50,000, had raised about $5,800 by Tuesday afternoon.

The men have a handful of tools that had been with them at a job site. They will now finish what jobs they can at other locations and look for a new space for the business.

“We’re going to try to get it back to where it was,” he said. “We don’t really know what’s going to happen.”

Maher said life safety codes did not require a sprinkler system inside the building, although he said code enforcement documents show a system had been installed in part of the facility. Maher said the sprinkler system had been decommissioned at the owner’s request.

“On this topic, I have no comments at this time,” Maher said.

Starbird confirmed the sprinkler system was shut off and pulled apart by Marcal Paper after the company closed the mill. He said it would have been too expensive to reinstall it.

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