News Feature

Originally published in The Weekly Packet, June 6, 2013
Sedgwick Structure fire levels storage building, triggers massive response

Structure fire in North Sedgwick

Members from 11 area departments responded to a structure fire at the Sedgwick Storage facility on Rt. 172 in North Sedgwick.

Photo by Faith DeAmbrose Order prints of selected PBP photos.

by Faith DeAmbrose

Firefighters from 11 area departments joined the Sedgwick Volunteer Fire Department as it battled a structure fire at the Sedgwick Storage facility on Route 172 on Saturday, June 1. The cause of the fire, as of press time, remains unknown and the Fire Marshall’s office continues its investigation.

According to Sedgwick Fire Chief David Carter, the fire marshal came to the scene Sunday morning and will conduct interviews of the few people who were on site the day of the fire. Carter said no one was inside the building when the fire broke out, but there were people on the premise. Sedgwick Storage manager and co-owner Paul Trowbridge was called to the scene at 5 p.m. that evening and began the task of calling customers to tell them what had happened.

Crews from all over the Blue Hill Peninsula and other area towns battled a blaze on Saturday, June 1 at Sedgwick Storage. Video by Faith DeAmbrose

Carter called the fire the largest in Sedgwick’s history and one of the larger on the Blue Hill Peninsula in recent memory. He said that despite all the assets called in, they were ultimately unable to save a large building on the property.

Carter said that the Sedgwick department, along with Deer Isle and Blue Hill were toned out simultaneously at 2:59 p.m. and that Sedgwick firefighter Royce Varnum was the first on the scene with a response time of about five minutes. He said that when Varnum arrived on scene, there were “flames coming out of the roof,” and shortly after, the entire roof of the wooden-framed (but metal covered) building collapsed. From there, area departments as far away as Ellsworth and Orland were called in to assist, as were Brooksville, Brooklin, Bucksport, Penobscot, Stonington and Surry. The Castine department remained on call and the Lamoine fire department sent a truck to cover the Blue Hill station in case something else happened on the peninsula. Close to 100 firefighters and approximately 20 different trucks rotated in and out throughout the eight-hour event. Firefighters were never able to mount an interior attack due to the rapid deterioration of the structure, said Carter, and about all they were able to save from the building was a computer and some office files. Efforts were then concentrated on keeping an adjacent building, which, Carter said, contained apartments and at least one business, from catching fire. “The fire burned the curtains in the window of that structure, but that was it,” said Carter. No one was inside the building when the fire broke out.

To help fight the fire two staging areas were established for water to be contained in dump tanks and hoses were run from each tank to different parts of the building. Carter said that fire chiefs from other departments took on various roles to help, including Blue Hill Chief Denny Robertson who was the on-scene safety officer and kept track of who was where and Deer Isle Chief Brent Morey who took command of the “attack” crews. “We divided up the work and it went well,” he said.

Water was drawn from a nearby pond off the Old County Road and tanker trucks from the various departments lined the North Sedgwick Road waiting their turn to unload water. Carter estimates that more than 100,000 gallons of water and between 50 and 75 gallons of “Class A foam” were used to put the fire out. Carter said it was the first time he had ever seen the level of water at that pond drop.

A portion of Route 172 was closed from Hales Hill Road to Old County Road for a portion of the day with one-lane traffic permitted at times. According to the Ellsworth-based Regional Call Center the roadway was fully reopened at 11 p.m. that evening.

As the fire made its way through the storage building, air temperatures hovered around 90 degrees adding another layer of difficulty to fighting the fire. Peninsula Ambulance Corps was on site to assist the emergency responders, but no injuries from the intense heat were reported. Drinking water and other supplies began to pour in within the first hour, said Carter, noting that the Blue Hill Fire Company Ladies Auxiliary made sandwiches and set up a cooling station on site. The majority of the fire was knocked down late in the day and an excavator was then called in to further break apart the building and to help the firemen extinguish the smoldering debris. Carter said the machine lifted the metal wall and roof sheeting that had collapsed inward, while firefighters sprayed water from either side underneath. “If we hadn’t done that it would probably still be burning,” said Carter, acknowledging that it likely destroyed any evidence for the fire marshal to use in determining the cause and origin. Carter said he was in contact with the fire marshal’s office throughout the day on Saturday.

On behalf of Sedgwick Storage, Trowbridge released a statement on June 3 empathizing with the community’s loss and noting that the owners of the facility also lost belongings stored in the destroyed building. “We built Sedgwick Storage as a small, family-run company for the last 12 years by serving people who are longtime friends and family members. The loss of our first built storage building affected our longest and most loyal customers, and we could not feel more heartbroken,” Trowbridge wrote in the release. “In the last two days we have spoken with over 65 customers, and each conversation has made us more aware of the tragic losses of this event.

“Our families join yours in grieving today. We also remain thankful that no life was lost, and we hope you will join us in thanking the many local fire departments that stopped the fire,” concluded Trowbridge.

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