UPDATE: Mechanic Falls mill still burning; investigation into cause begins

MECHANIC FALLS — A fire that destroyed a large mill building on Lewiston Street was still burning at 11 p.m. Sunday.

According to a Facebook post by the Town of Mechanic Falls, crews expected to battle the blaze well into Monday morning.

The fire was reported just after 1 p.m., and the building was fully consumed by flames by the time firefighters arrived at about 1:30 p.m. Sunday afternoon, according to witnesses.

The fire created a cloud of thick, black smoke that could be seen for miles.

The large building served several businesses, including as a warehouse for Maine Cycle, and was filled with motorcycles and parts. Corcoran Environmental Services, which recycles plastics, also operated at the mill.

According to Zakk Maher, town manager in Mechanic Falls, the building is owned by Charles Starbird.

According to buzzfile.com, a company information database, Starbird owns Magnum Enterprises, a construction company, and Magnum Homes, which builds houses. Both businesses are based in Mechanic Falls.

By 6 p.m. Sunday  the fire was roughly 45 percent contained, the town reported in a Facebook post. Fire officials said no one was injured in the blaze, and the cause was not yet known, according to Maher.

Throughout the afternoon, onlookers watched as the fire raged. By midafternoon, a section of the building had collapsed as more than 50 people watched from a nearby bridge.

“It was a very large fire that was extremely high, with tons of black smoke,” said Lindsey Campbell, who lives in the area. “There were mini explosions. Nothing like I’ve ever seen in person before.”

Other witnesses reported flames that reached at least 80 feet into the sky. Several people reported seeing smoke from as far away as Gray.

David Hodgkin of Poland Spring was among the first on the scene. He said when he arrived, there were flames shooting out from the eaves of the building.

“It was fully engulfed within minutes,” Hodgkin said.

Police helped at least one man out of his apartment, located in a separate building near the mill.

Firefighters from 19 departments, including Oxford, Norway, Paris, Casco, Poland, New Gloucester and Auburn, were called to assist in battling the blaze or to fill in at area fire stations.

Multiple firetrucks poured water onto the building, and tankers were sent from several towns, including Bowdoin, Bath and Lisbon.

Witnesses said it appeared the fire started in the Maine Cycle warehouse. According to the company website, the warehouse moved to the Lewiston Street location in 2015 from its former warehouse in Auburn.

The company, which buys, sells and trades motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles and parts for these machines, specializes in models from the 1970s and 1980s.

Allisa Greenwood watched the fire from the sidewalk.

“I remember this building from when I was this high,” she said, gesturing a few feet from the ground. “My uncle used to come home from working in the mill and he’d smell.”

Maher said the old building, a former Marcal Paper mill, was not on any historic registries.

“That mill built this town,” Hodgkin said. “It’s a shame to see it go.”

As crews fought the fire, Maher said the building’s proximity to the Little Androscoggin River gave firefighters “a little breathing room” in their efforts to confine the flames.

Maher said he expected the cleanup would take days, but “the main goal is getting the firefighters through the process without anyone getting hurt.”

The American Legion on nearby Elm Street opened to serve food and water to firefighters and other emergency workers, according to Maher, and the Red Cross was mobilized to help those displaced by the fire.


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