Rumford fire guts 5 buildings

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RUMFORD – A suspicious fire destroyed five buildings valued at about a half-million dollars early Sunday morning.

Another three buildings were damaged by the intensity of the blaze.

The destroyed structures included four homes and a barn that housed several vintage vehicles.

Firefighters were called out at 3:26 a.m. In the minutes it took them to arrive at the scene, police officers had evacuated the buildings. No one was hurt. Whether pets were killed or injured wasn’t known Sunday night.

Deputy fire Chief Richard Coulombe said he believes the fire started in a vacant building on Virgin Street owned by Betsy Williams. The blaze spread to the barn and nearby houses, including a duplex, bordering Prospect Avenue, behind the vacant building. It then jumped across a driveway on Virgin Street to an adjacent home.

Investigators from the Office of the State Fire Marshal, at the scene for much of Sunday, are expected to return today.

Deputy Chief Ben Byam said the fire was suspicious because no one lived in the house where the blaze started, and no electrical power was on.

At least one of the buildings’ owners was covered by insurance. Owners of the destroyed buildings include Williams, John Edwards, and Faylene and Steve Austin. Homes with damage to siding or windows were owned by Williams, John Belanger, Community Concepts Inc. and Roger Fleury.

“It was a very dangerous situation,” said Byam. “Live power lines were sparking for awhile.”

He said the radiant heat was unbelievable.

“We couldn’t get into them,” he said.

As bad it the fire was, Byam said it could have been worse. The entire block might have burned if a building that was between the vacant building on Virgin Street and the Williams’ home hadn’t been razed a few years before.

“That street has always been a concern because the wires are so close to the buildings,” he said.

The damaged and destroyed buildings were all wooden structures estimated to be at least 100 years old, said acting Deputy Chief Chris Bryant.

Fire victims are staying with family or friends.

About 50 firefighters were at the scene for about three hours, said Bryant. Smoke was still smoldering along Virgin Street at 8 p.m.

Firefighters from Rumford, Mexico, Dixfield, Andover, Peru, Newry, Roxbury and Byron responded. Two ambulances from Med-Care Ambulance Service were also on standby.

Staff reporter Katie Camire contributed to this story.

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