Twenty mile an hour winds pushed huge black clouds of smoke toward the Hill early this afternoon, causing area residents and business men to follow the smoke to the scene of the blaze near the waterfront. A three alarm fire was well under way at the former Jordan Meat Co. Red flames were shooting into the sky from the roof of the middle building which had collapsed. All the while firemen from numerous departments in the area were working to prevent the blaze from spreading to businesses on Middle Street that adjoin the new Hampton Inn location.
Eddie Fitzpatrick, one of the co-owners of the Pepperclub Restaurant on Middle Street said some of the business owners in the area were concerned about the “effects of the destruction and construction of the new Inn on their businesses, but never expected a major fire only 20 ft. from the Restaurant.” Fitzpatrick said he noticed flames coming from the building about 1:15 pm as he returned from a shopping trip for the restaurant. He could see the smoke about l/2 mile away. There were no patrons in the restaurant at the time, and the staff was unaware of the “monster” fire until he told them to evacuate the premises immediately. “I have no idea at all what I did with the food I bought for the restaurant,” he said.
Last month a N.H. developer, Opechee Construction Corporation, began the demolition of the valuable property with the city’s approval so it can begin the construction of a Hampton Inn complex complete with a Sebago Brewing restaurant and some condominiums. The development of the property had been on the fast track in order to meet a hoped for opening date of Memorial Day next year. Arthur Fink, a freelance photographer, on the scene said: “This fire might just accelerate their plans a little!”
Mayor Nick Mavodones whose Casco Bay Lines office is just several blocks away from the fire on Commercial Street said: “The speed with which this fire has been contained shows just how talented the fire and police departments are in responding so quickly and effectively.” Power was out up on the Hill for up to two hours in some locations.
Once people began to realize this major fire had been contained and there were no injurites, the humor kicked in. From Tom Bell, of the “Portland Press Herald”, “Where is the Portland Symphony Orchestera when we need them?” referring to the announcement that the PSO will play in the July 4th Stars and Stripes Celebration this year on the Eastern Promenade. Others remarked that there was a bigger crowd here than there ever has been at the Fourth Celebration.
While there is no evidence to support this authorities told MHN.com, some onlookers at the fire suggested that the fire may have been intentionally set. The US Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has been called in to investigate the fire as it is whenver the losses in a fire are over $1,000,000. according to authorities.