AUBURN — State fire marshals ruled Tuesday that an early-morning fire at a proposed Trapp Road slaughterhouse was arson.

The fire was reported a few hours after the Auburn City Council voted to allow a developer to present a controversial plan for the slaughterhouse.

Sgt. Joel Davis, an investigator for the State Fire Marshal’s Office, said his office was working with Auburn police on a criminal investigation.

“We know what caused the fire,” Davis said. “We won’t release that because it would hinder our investigation. But we have taken evidence and it is being submitted to a laboratory to confirm our suspicions.”

Davis said his department and Auburn police were interviewing several people in connection with the fire.

It was reported at 12:03 a.m. Tuesday at 512 Trapp Road, Deputy Chief Geoffrey Low of the Auburn Fire Department said.

“The fire was mostly kept in the wood office area within the building itself,” Low said. “The fire was contained there and there was heavy smoke throughout the building.”

Most of the metal structure was still intact, Low said.

“With some repair, the building will certainly be usable again,” Low said. “The fire was out very quickly. The first crew that arrived was able to extinguish the main body of the fire. One challenge they had was the amount of smoke in the building and the complexity of the building itself.”

The Auburn City Council voted Monday night to allow developer Craig Linke to present a controversial plan for a slaughterhouse on the property. The fire was reported a few hours after that decision.

The land is zoned for agriculture and open space, and slaughterhouse operations were allowed only on existing farms in the agriculture zone as an accessory use — not as standalone operations. Councilors voted Monday to change that.

“There were a number of red flags on this, right off the start, that made it look like this was a set fire,” Davis said. “I was not aware of the history of the property until I got there.”

Developer Linke, contacted by telephone Tuesday, said he has been in Florida on vacation. He learned about the fire Tuesday morning when his brother, who owns the building, called him.

“I get back in Maine on Friday, and I’ll have to see what’s left of the building,” he said. “All I really need is the frame, and if that’s OK, we should be able to proceed.”

Linke plans to open Mainestock, a stand-alone slaughterhouse, on 21.5 acres at 512 Trapp Road. He said he planned to have 15 employees at his operation.

The farm, on the 21.5-acre lot and a 22-acre parcel at 526 Trapp Road immediately south, was home to a chicken farm and processing operation in 1998 that was never successful. 

Neighbor Michelle Melaragno, of 576 Trapp Road, said the fire made her nervous.

“To be very honest, I don’t want to leave my house now because there is too much going on,” she said. “If people are setting fires, whether it’s random or targeted, I’m pretty nervous about that. I mean, I have animals, and this is pretty unnerving.”

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