BOOTHBAY (AP) – A fire that destroyed a well-known boatyard and caused an estimated $30 million in damage was caused by sparks from a cutting torch, officials said Monday.

Workers at Washburn & Doughty shipyard were using torches Friday morning while working on tugboats under construction in the shipyard’s 50,000-square-foot fabrication building, the state fire marshal’s office said.

Sparks from a torch accidentally ignited a wall, and from there the fire spread quickly along the wall and into the roof, spokesman Steve McCausland said.

The spectacular fire ended up reducing the building to ashes and twisted metal, while also destroying the shipyard office, shed and storage buildings.

Nobody was hurt, but the fire put a halt to work at a business that serves as an economic linchpin in the Boothbay area.

Layoffs immediate

Washburn & Doughty’s owners said Monday that 65 of its employees are being temporarily laid off, but 35 others will be kept on to finish a third tugboat that is nearly completed and ready for delivery.

Company officials told the Portland Press Herald that the company plans to rebuild as soon as possible and could be building boats again within three months.

“We hate to see anyone laid off, and we want to do what we can to get them working again,” co-owner Bruce Washburn told the newspaper.

Washburn and partner Bruce Doughty started their boat-building business in 1977. They initially built fishing boats, ferries and research vessels, but had turned to tugboat building in recent years.

Labor Department Commissioner Laura Fortman visited the shipyard Monday, and the department’s rapid response team met with workers who will be out of work because of the fire.

The rapid response team generally informs workers of unemployment, health care and job training resources that might be available to them.

“My goal was to get a better understanding of what might be the needs of those employees so we’re responsive to their needs,” Fortman said.

Gov. John Baldacci, Economic and Community Development Department Commissioner John Richardson and Fortman planned another visit to the shipyard on Tuesday.

Community responds

Meanwhile, people in the community have begun helping workers who are without a job because of the fire.

The Boothbay Region Land Trust said Monday it has opened a fund to take donations to help workers. While unemployment will help with expenses, many workers lost tools in the fire and won’t be able to get another job without them.

“It seems that we might be able to raise some funds to help cover these immediate needs,” said land trust Executive Director Julie Lamy.

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