Official says cause of Penley Mill fire cannot be determined

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WEST PARIS — The cause of the Penley Mill fire cannot be determined, according to the Maine Department of Public Safety, because of extensive damage to the building.

According to department spokesman Steve McCausland, early responders believe it began in the middle of the building. On Wednesday, all that was left of the 2½-story building was some metal.

Firefighters were credited with stopping the fire from spreading to the nearby fireworks store.

The fire took hours to extinguish, and a hazardous materials team was called in because it was believed old chemicals were in the building.

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West Paris fire Chief Norm St. Pierre said that while the cause of the fire is unknown, his educated guess is electrical.

“At this point, it’s just going to be an indeterminable cause,” he said.

“We did not see anything suspicious,” St. Pierre said. There were no tracks in the snow, and surveillance video from Aah Fireworks nearby showed no suspicious activity.

The building was in the process of being remodeled by Andre Vandenbulcke, owner of Aah Fireworks, who since September has been turning the old mill into a warehouse for his fireworks distribution business. The fireworks were still being stored in his store and several trailers, but St. Pierre said Vandenbulcke had a pallet jack, and rack rollers in the building and had put about $20,000 into repairs.

“The owners were very upset and teary-eyed when they came on scene,” St. Pierre said. He said Vandenbulcke was in the process of moving to Maine from New Hampshire and had furniture stored in the building as well. “Everything’s a total loss,” St. Pierre said, but Vandenbulcke was insured.

According to municipal assessing records, the building was valued at $168,400.

The fireworks store is about 60 feet away and siding melted but firefighters sprayed it down to keep it from catching fire. The town’s water supply was nearly drained, and St. Pierre said they had to switch to getting water from the Little Androscoggin River.

St. Pierre said he ran out of fire hose fighting the fire. He said he ordered more from a supplier in Winthrop, who delivered immediately, in time for the Fire Department to use it on the mill fire.

St. Pierre said he was grateful for the hard work of the firefighters from a dozen towns at the scene. “They really did a great job,” St. Pierre said. “The training and the skills of these folks really came out.”

The Penley Mill made clothespins for 80 years until its closing in 2002. The mill was the economic center of the town, and St. Pierre said people are sad to see it gone. “A lot of folks have been coming by,” St. Pierre said. “Just to stop and take a picture.”

treaves@sunjournal.com

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