LEWISTON — A fire early this morning that burned in a section of the Bates Mill that houses  Museum L-A did not damage the museum or its contents, according to museum officials.

“(The firefighters) caught it early enough so that the sprinklers didn’t go off,” Museum L-A Executive Director Rachel Desgrosseilliers said. “Thank god, because the water damage would have been horrible for the artwork and the artifacts and the archive we have.”

A near lightening strike sparked the fire that burned deep inside the Bates Mill early Wednesday morning, a fire investigator said later in the day.

A bolt of lightening hit something near the mill and richocheted toward the top of the of the building, igniting wood under the roof of an old elevator shaft, said Lewiston Fire Investigator Paul Ouellette.

The fire was reported shortly before 11 p.m. Tuesday by a passer-by who thought he smelled smoke, a fire official said. When fire crews arrived in the area of Museum L-A, they found flames on the upper section of the old mill.

Firefighters were able to contain the fire, which burned in the large tower attached to the Canal Street building, Bates Mill No. 1., preventing the fire from moving into the larger part of the mill. The full extent of the damage was unknown Wednesday morning.

The museum houses a historical archive of the Lewiston-Auburn community, documenting the mills and the people who lived here. Desgrosseilliers said they are currently in the process of building an exhibit on the shoe making industry.

The outpouring of concern and support from the community has been “unbelievable,” Desgrosseilliers said.

“Since early this morning it’s been phone calls and e-mails from all over the community,” she said. Local business people, members of the community, Bates College officials and representatives for Sen. Olympia Snowe, Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Michael Michaud’s offices have called expressing their concern for the museum’s welfare, she said.

“People have been calling off the hook,” said Susan Beane, the archivist and public relations coordinator for the museum.

As of 10 a.m. this morning fire fighting equipment has mostly moved out of the building.

“We’re not back to normal in the sense that it scared us, but as far as business goes, we’re back to normal,” Desgrosseilliers said.

“I’d like to thank the community and let them know that it means a lot to see how important their history is,” she said.

Museum L-A is in the process of planning a move to the Camden Yarns building, off Oxford Street, but the timeline for that is still a few years away, Desgrosseilliers said.

“Last night made me wish it was going to be earlier,” she said.

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