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Fire destroys Fort Fairfield garage, threatens apartments

A fire destroyed a mechanic’s garage in downtown Fort Fairfield before firefighters contending with subzero temperatures and 10,000 gallons of oil got it under control on Monday.

The fire at Bob’s Service and Repair at 328 Main St. was reported at 3:30 p.m. Sunday and firefighters couldn’t leave until 12 hours later. No one was injured, Fort Fairfield Fire Chief Vince Baldwin said.

“We had controlled the fire within an hour, but it took the total time to extinguish the fire,” Baldwin said Monday.

The remains of Bob’s Service and Repair continued to burn as firefighters from five towns fought to keep the fire from spreading in downown Fort Fairfield. (Photo courtesy of Fort Fairfield Fire Department)

Firefighters from five area towns stopped the fire after it had spread into a small portion of the elevator shaft of an adjacent three-story apartment building. They then had to sift through the remains of the garage, dousing hot spots and ensuring that the oil remained contained.

The cold, which ranged from a few degrees above zero to -13 degrees Fahrenheit, created large patches of ice and ice dams, froze fire nozzles and jammed hoses with ice, Baldwin said.

“The entire area quickly becomes an ice skating rink once you start applying water,” he said.

A family of three who lived in one of the apartments is receiving aid from the American Red Cross of Maine.

Firefighters determined that the fire started in a waste-oil furnace. Service station owner Robert Kilcollins had shut down the boiler because it wasn’t working, but its ignition system malfunctioned, Baldwin said.

The building contained 9,000 gallons of waste oil and 900 gallons of heating oil. Other toxins included acetylene torches, paint cans and about 300 tires, Baldwin said.

Rounds of ammunition from several weapons stored on the property also cooked off, Baldwin said.

Caribou, Easton, Fort Fairfield, Limestone and Presque Isle firefighters assisted, as did Crown Ambulance, Baldwin said.

On Tuesday, Kilcollins said he was still “trying to digest everything” but looking forward. “We’ll be back in business.”

Kilcollins said he’s setting up a temporary repair shop at 10 Brown Street and expects to be operating at a rebuilt Main Street location in the spring.

The construction company McGillan is at work tearing down the destroyed building, while Kilcollins is meeting with Buck Construction to devise plans for a new building on the site, he said.

Construction on the new building could start by the end of January and be complete in April, he said.

Kilcollins has operated Bob’s Service & Repair since 1986 and moved to the current Main Street location in April 1994, after one of the town’s worst floods on record destroyed the previous building he was working out of.

“I’m a little experienced on this,” he said of rebuilding the business. “It was the flood of the century. We went to work that next day and there was nothing there but a foundation.”

The day after the flood hit Main Street, he was able to purchase the current location and start anew.

Now, he’s moving ahead to rebuild this time despite being “not too far from 60 years old.”

“I feel obligated to provide the service to the communities.”

Star-Herald writer Anthony Brino contributed to this report.

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