|From the Brunswick Times Record
Stinson cannery destroyed
|Fire marshals arrive at the Bath riverfront scene at 7 a.m. to investigate cause of blaze.
BATH — The former Stinson Seafood cannery is no more, despite the efforts of a dozen local fire departments to put out a blaze that was reported to the Bath Fire Department early this morning.
And a big fire it was.
“Mammoth,” said Bath Fire Chief Steve Hinds. “It’s over $1 million in damage. It was a four-alarm fire — I’d say the biggest fire I’ve seen in Bath. It was huge.”
Twelve different fire departments responded with 17 engines and six ladder trucks.
“The call came in about 2:30 a.m.,” Hinds said. “When we got here, it was fully engaged. The walls had collapsed. Because of the size of the site — the expanse — we needed help. That’s why the four alarms.”
For neighbors, many of whom live in homes quite close to the cannery, it was a scary night.
Frank Haddad’s wife woke him up at about 2:30 a.m. Their daughter was throwing up and she needed some help. But a few minutes later, Haddad realized his daughter’s upset stomach was the least of his problems.
“I got out of bed, looked out the window and saw flames,” he recalled four hours later, as the sun broke through the pall of smoke that lingered over the site of the former Stinson Seafood complex on Bowery Street.
Haddad lives in a small house on a hill directly across the street from the former fish processing plant, which has sat vacant for more than a year.
“I was scared, it was like my worst nightmare come true,” Haddad said. “I called the fire in and (fire crews) were here real fast.”
Haddad and his family moved to a neighbor’s house up the street, but Haddad stood watch by his house, as the flames crept up the hill. Haunting him were visions of his house going up in smoke like the major conflagration he was witnessing. He was relieved when firefighters hosed down his house as a preventive measure.
The glow from the fire was seen across the river in Woolwich, as Wanda Orr drove across the Sagadahoc Bridge to open the Woolwich Clipper Mart on Route 1.
“I knew there was a big fire somewhere,” she said.
Firefighters from just about every town between Wiscasset and Lisbon helped, Hinds said, including ladder trucks from Wiscasset, Brunswick Naval Air Station, Topsham, Yarmouth and Freeport. By 7 a.m., the combined efforts of those crews had knocked down the flames and contained the blaze — but not before the buildings were leveled.
Hinds said his department had planned for just such an emergency.
“We had a contingency plan,” Hinds said. “We try to keep on top of vacant buildings, and this one being so big, we knew what to do and how much help we needed right away.”
This morning, amid the ashes and rubble, Hinds could offer no ideas about the cause of the fire.
“A fire this huge, usually goes to the federal ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms),” Hinds said. “They need a lot of investigators for a fire this size, and there’s only a handful at the state level.”
State investigators were on the scene by 7 a.m.
Among the bystanders watching the smoldering blaze was Dick Klingaman, who owned Stinson Seafood for 11 years and who lives nearby.
“This is a tragedy,” he said. “There is so much history here.”
Klingaman said that the two main wooden structures were built in 1915 by the company that later became Texaco.
“It was shut down after World War I in 1921,” Klingaman said. “There was a major fire here in 1936, and 10 years later it became a sardine cannery. So this is the second major fire at this site.”
Klingaman said he sold the property in 2000. The site changed owners again and Bumble Bee Seafoods paid $1.38 million for it in 2004, then closed the cannery last year. The site is valued by the city for tax purposes at $1.5 million.
Bruce Poliquin, principal of Dirigo Holdings LLC, purchased the site in March with plans to build about 40 townhouse-style homes and a marina, if the city would rezone the property from commercial to residential.
When the Planning Board and the City Council denied his request for rezoning, Poliquin went ahead with the purchase of the property. In a March 29 letter to the City Council and Planning Board, Poliquin stated that he had plans to tear down the buildings on the 5.6-acre parcel unless someone came forward to convince him otherwise.
“I am concerned about owning the vacant and increasingly dangerous industrial facility in the dense North End neighborhood,” he wrote.
Reached this morning, Poliquin was in Portland and had not yet visited the site.
“I’m disheartened about the fire,” he said. “But am pleased and at peace that no one was hurt.”
Poliquin said he had talked to city officials during the past few months about allowing the fire department to use the site for training.
“It’s ironic,” he said. “But now that the buildings are destroyed, perhaps the metal buildings could be used by the city or a nonprofit organization.”
Poliquin said he would go forward with a scheduled meeting Friday morning with “interested parties” in the commercial use of the property. The meeting was set up by City Manager William Giroux and City Planner Jim Upham.