Published DateBy Erik Eisele
LOVELL — The winter weather complicated efforts to fight a fire that destroyed a historic downtown Lovell building Saturday morning, but crews were able to keep the flames from spreading to nearby structures.
The Stearns, Kimball & Walker Building, which dates back to the 1830s, was already engulfed in flames by the time the first fire engine arrived on scene around 7 a.m. Saturday, according to Lovell fire chief Tommie McKenzie. Flames were showing on the outside of the building, and nearly 75 percent of the building was involved.
"At that point there's no saving the structure itself," McKenzie said, so crews concentrated on containing the flames. They hosed down two nearby houses and several adjacent propane tanks, he said. "Those remained unharmed."
The building "over the years had been the home of a coffin factory, a hardware store, a fancy goods store, the Lovell telephone exchange, The Lovell Market, a laundromat," according to the Lovell town website, and had been turned into business units. Until Saturday it "housed Martha Goldsmith's Quilt Shop, Stan Tupaj's Kezar Realty, Sam Nesbitt's law office and the Priscilla Bond Art Center," the website said.
The building also included one unit that was under construction. Officials suspect a propane heater left on inside that unit may have caused the fire.
"It's still under investigation," McKenzie said, but, with so little of the building left standing, determining the exact cause will be difficult. "Officially the cause is going to be listed as undetermined," he said.
It took roughly 60 firefighters to knock the flames down, including crews from Stoneham, Fryeburg, Saco Valley, East Conway and Center Conway.
Fryeburg Rescue and Stoneham Rescue also assisted, according to McKenzie.
Bond MacGillivray lives in one of the neighboring houses and used to run the art center. He watched and took photos as the building burned.
"It's only 35 feet from my house," he said. The art center, which had become his storage facility, was reduced to "just two giant piles of rubble."
On the morning of the fire he tried to save what he could. "I was running around like a chicken with its head cut off," he said, trying to save his mother's antique furniture, his bicycle collection, a camper parked out front and more.
"I'm still thinking of stuff I didn't grab," he said on Monday.
Still, despite the losses, he is staying positive. "It's just stuff," he said. He's happy no one was hurt. "Any of that crap can be replaced."
He said as the building burned he couldn't help but think of piles of ceramics he had in the unit that had yet to make it into the kiln. "At least it's getting fired now," he thought as he watched the firefighters work.
"You have to look at life in a positive light," he said. "Life's way too short. What am I going to do, go around being miserable?"
MacGillivray did, however, suffer some smoke inhalation as a result of trying to save his stuff. "I was in my Winnebago as the front was on fire," he said, throwing stuff into the snow. He could not save all that was in the gallery, "30 years of art."
McKenzie said it took four hours to get the fire under control, then another four hours to clean up the site. Winds carried ash as far as a half a mile away. "There were flying embers quite a ways from the fire itself," he said. The fire knocked out power and utilites to much of the town, which along with the snow further hampered firefighting efforts.
Still, McKenzie said, despite significant risk of other downtown buildings catching fire, crews were able to contain the flames. "The guys worked very hard and did a great job," he said.