NORWAY — Fire ripped through a six-unit apartment building at 73 Beal St. on Wednesday afternoon, displacing eight people and leaving questions about whether the structure can be repaired.

The landlord, Peter Berube, and three tenants, including a couple and their infant, were home at the time and managed to escape unharmed. 

The fire started in a basement stairwell where electrical wires overlap, and spread quickly into the walls and ceiling, said Daniel Young, a senior investigator with the Office of the Maine State Fire Marshal.

The cause of the fire was under investigation. It was reported just after noon.

At least eight tenants were living in the building, including one man who was moving in this week, Berube said. The American Red Cross provided them with housing, food and other essentials, said Justin Burkhardt, the regional director of communications. 

Firefighters responded quickly to the scene but were hampered by high temperatures and a personnel shortage because firefighters were battling a sawdust fire in Mechanic Falls. Crews were also lacking in firefighters permitted to enter a burning structure, calling in departments from as far away as Bethel, Lovell and Auburn, Norway Assistant Fire Chief Jim Tibbetts said. 

Fire gutted the rear section of the front building, both floors of a barn converted into rental units and an annex connecting the two. By 2 p.m. firefighters had the flames under control, but most of the possessions in the back of the building were not salvageable, Tibbetts said, and he questioned whether structural damage could be repaired.

“It was not immediately certain if the building was a complete loss,” Tibbetts said.

The property was insured, he said.

The wood-frame building, which is owned by a trust based in St. Petersburg, Fla., is assessed at $134,900.

Firefighters could be seen walking through the basement as they blew out smoke late Wednesday afternoon.

Tibbetts said several cats were unaccounted for. 

Members of the Norway Fire Department initially responded to the fire, which is just down the street from the Fire Station. Help was called from Paris, Hebron, Waterford, Woodstock, Bethel, Sumner and Lovell departments, according to Oxford County Regional Communications traffic.

Beal and Winter streets were closed to traffic to accommodate emergency vehicles. They were reopened Wednesday afternoon. 

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