Fire guts historic Bangor hall; 1870 Masonic building heavily damaged, cause undetermined

This story was published on Jan. 16, 2004 on Page A1 in all editions of the Bangor Daily News

BANGOR – Firefighters braved frigid weather to battle a four-story blaze in downtown Bangor Thursday night at the historic Masonic Hall building on Main Street. No one lived in the building, but it housed three businesses.

The fire was reported at about 8:30 p.m., and, soon afterward, the Brewer and Holden fire departments were called to the burning brick structure.

Smoke poured from broken windows on the top floor and seeped around intact windows lower down. For more than an hour, no flames were visible from the street, but at about 9:50 p.m. a dull orange glow showed through windows on the second floor on the Water Street side.

Firefighters smashed the windows with a long pole and blasted the flames with water.

It did not appear anyone was injured as of press time. No cause was immediately apparent. Investigators are expected to be on the scene today.

A “snorkel” truck was deployed to attack the fire from the top story. The specialized truck has a two-section lift arm with a hose and bucket.

With multiple streams of water rushing into the building, smoke and steam issued from broken windows on the Main Street side and cascaded toward the street upon hitting the cold air.

Fire crews had checked inside on one side of the building for occupants, Assistant Fire Chief Rick Cheverie said, but had to move outside before the whole building could be checked because the fire was intense and the structure weakened.

Subzero temperatures made the task even more hazardous, causing streams of water from hoses and pump trucks to freeze almost instantly on Main Street and steeply sloping Water Street. More than one firefighter lost his footing, and hose crews were careful to spray from uphill.

The firefighters who entered the building got very wet, Cheverie said, and were “iced down pretty good” when the cold air hit their suits.

They walked like knights in stiff armor to the Freese’s building to warm up. Some firefighters decided they would be better off wearing the ice shell than letting it melt through.

At about 10:20 p.m. a firefighter mounted in the bucket of the snorkel truck trained his hose at one of the tall stained-glass windows on the building.

The blast of water did not break the window, so the firefighter tried to use a pole, to no avail. He finally managed to break the glass after readjusting the bucket’s position.

Bangor and other police departments helped with traffic control, and more than one police officer took up a shovel to help spread sand on the iced-over streets. The fire was still burning at press time.

The businesses contained in the historic structure included the Scottish Rite Masonic Children’s Learning Center, Yankee Shoe Repair, and the River City Gallery, an art shop. No damage estimate was available Thursday night.

The Masonic Hall “block,” as it was called, was completed in 1870, designed by architect William Carlisle. Its most distinctive feature were tall, curved windows adorning the third floor. Additions were constructed in the early part of the 20th century.

A1 for Friday, Jan. 16, 2004

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