RUMFORD — Nearly 100 firefighters and emergency rescue workers from 10 departments spent hours Friday battling a massive fire at the Linnell Motel on Prospect Avenue.

The fire, which started near the second-floor roof in the back of the main building, was reported just before 2 p.m.

According to an employee at a nearby store, the motel was fully engulfed in fire by 2:15 p.m.

Firefighters were still hard at work at 6 p.m. fighting a stubborn fire in the basement.

“We’re just trying to flood it out,” Fire Chief Bob Chase said. “It’s not active fire, but we can’t dig it out yet.”

An excavator was called in to provide firefighters with access to drown the flames with water from the department’s aerial truck.

“The initial report was that there was heavy fire from the roof and the building is in the shape of a T, and the fire was near the end of the T — that back section — on the second floor,” Chase said.

The front section was “pretty much unaffected,” Chase said of the rooms and office fronting Prospect Avenue, “so we’ve let people go in and get their belongings so they can find other accommodations.”

He said the front lobby is where the two-story T heads toward the woods, which also caught fire.

Chase said it took 90 minutes to achieve knockdown. He estimated the damage at well over $100,000.

“We did do limited interior attacking, getting into rooms that were adjacent to each other and opened them up so we could stop the fire from spreading there in the attic spaces,” he said.

Two firefighters went up on ladders on either side of the lobby to cut open the roof from top to bottom in a long, thin rectangle.

“That’s a technique we use to stop the fire from spreading through the roof,” Chase said. “The fire will quickly run from one end to the other. Venting the roof like that acts like a block.”

The 50-room Linnell Motel was built in 1954, and a number of other buildings were added in 1960 for conference space and dining.

Chase said 15 people were living at the motel, and all were accounted for. Some were treated for smoke inhalation, he said.

One of the employees cleaning the motel smelled smoke and knocked on doors that she knew were occupied, according to witnesses.

Most of the people living at the motel are contractors at the Catalyst paper mill.

One couple had been staying there for the past three weeks after being relocated to the motel when their apartment burned in Mexico. They are among those relocated by the American Red Cross to a hotel in Bethel.

The Rev. Justin Thacker of Praise Assembly of God Church in Rumford and the Rev. Dan Pearson of the Rumford Baptist Church told the Sun Journal they often placed homeless people at the Linnell. They spent the afternoon at the motel to help some of those people try to find places to stay.

Jason Harris of Noxen, Pa., is a Fisher Tank Co. contractor working at the mill and was at work when he heard about the fire. He was told to go to the motel to get his belongings, but when he got there firefighters wouldn’t let him near because the flames were too close.

“I just watched the fire get closer to my room, and then they stopped it at the next room from mine,” Harris said. He waited at the property for about two hours before firefighters would let him into the room to get his belongings.

Many of the contractors who were staying at the Linnell had paid for several weeks in advance, and many told the Sun Journal they’re short on cash to book at a different hotel. A truck that belonged to one of these workers, and which was parked nearest the fire, was destroyed.

Pearson and Thacker were working with their congregants to collect food and clothing for two of the displaced families, including the manager, Tom Kumar, his wife, Preeti, their newborn infant, and girls ages 2 and 4.

Dan Young, an investigator with the State Fire Marshal’s Office, said late Friday afternoon that the fire likely started on the outside of the building, based on statements from the owner’s son, Tom Kumar, and maids who were working at the hotel.

“We established that the fire started around the area of Room 165, and that gentleman who was living there has left,” Young said. “We can’t find him. He’s not in the rubble. He left.”

He said that according to the investigation, the man was grilling outside the building and the vinyl siding caught fire and flames spread to the roof.

“But that hasn’t been confirmed, because we can’t find him,” Young said. “But right now, that is what we’re looking at (for the cause).”

Young said the motel’s sprinkler system had been checked Friday morning and was working.

“I think the issue here is the sprinklers are below the ceiling and the fire was outside the building and got into the eaves and the roof so fast that the sprinklers wouldn’t have gone off,” he said. “By the time that they did go off, the fire was already pretty well-developed.”

Young also said none of the fire and smoke alarms would have sounded until the fire got inside the rooms.

According to Rumford tax assessing records, all of the buildings and nearly 5 acres are valued at $788,666. That valuation has not been updated since 1999, and is considered just over 80 percent of the actual value.

The motel is owned by Ravi & Meena LLC. According to Secretary of State corporation records, the registered agent for the LLC is Tom Kumar, who is employed as a manager at the motel.

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To help two families displaced by the fire, Pastor Dan Pearson of Rumford Baptist Church, said people can call him at 207-507-1066 or send clothing and food to: c/o Dan Pearson, Rumford Baptist Church, 431 Raymond St., Rumford, ME 04276.

“We’ve offered to help the victims in whatever practical way we can,” Pearson said of himself and Rumford’s Praise Assembly of God Pastor Justin Thacker.

Linnell Hotel manager Tom Kumar, his wife Preeti, their newborn infant, and two girls, ages 2 and 4, lost all of their belongings and home. Without identifying them, Pearson said he was working to find them a place to stay. “They’re in shock.”

“We got them some infant formula and diapers, but we need help,” Pearson said. “We are looking for clothing for them and diapers. The 4-year-old wears clothing for a 5-year-old.”

He said the Red Cross representative was also on scene and providing vouchers to the victims for places to stay and for food.

Two area residents and Pearson also offered to put displaced people up in their homes until they can find available housing.

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