SANFORD, Maine (NEWS CENTER) — More than a hundred firefighters from about 20 communities responded to a massive fire Friday night at an abandoned mill building in Sanford.
Smoke billowing out from what used to be a textile mill of some sort could be seen from miles away. Fortunately, officials said no on was hurt, collapsing debris was kept to a minimum and surrounding property was not seriously damaged, though burning embers fell on many nearby multi-family homes and apartments.
The fire at 13 River Street was first reported shortly before 7 p.m., and was up to at least five alarms an hour later. Fire departments from Alfred, Lebanon, Ross Corner, North Berwick, Kennebunk and Acton initially responded, with some dozen joining shortly thereafter.
It wasn't the building's first fire — Lt. Kristen Hagan said a previous fire had caused some damage, and that the building was overall a pretty dangerous spot with broken windows and a run down interior.
Homeowners nearby said they smelled burning earlier in the afternoon but weren't sure where it was coming from until they saw flames. Later, many of them went outside and spayed their homes with water – with firefighters doing some of that work as well – concerned that property would catch on fire.
Community members in the neighborhood said they were grateful for the firefighters' work.
"I was worried about my house because we were seeing red embers come down," said Sanford resident Mark Croteau. "You know, it don't take much to start a house fire. It gets on the roof, stuff starts to take off … the fire department acted pretty good in soaking down these houses and giving us a hand. Probably saved a house or two."
PHOTOS: Flames tear through abandoned mill in Sanford
Firefighters got very close to the building and, at one point, officials were worried it might collapse. This prompted warnings to keep a safe distance away in case anything happened. Part of it is still unstable, so crews set up a containment zone in case a wall fell down while they were still working.
"The fire – we walked by it – you could feel the heat," said Sanford resident Samantha Barnett. "My friend lives right down the street. We got the animals out, then we came back to hose down the apartments so they didn't catch on fire. There was ash and debris that was on fire."
Sanford Fire Chief Stephen Cutter said there was a lot more work to be done, including figuring out if parts of the old mill were still flaming up. He said emergency management had a drone with an infrared camera that would be used to look within the burned building and another nearby to see if any hotspots remained.
Firefighters were expected to be there well into the morning hours of Saturday. A cause for the fire was too early to determine, officials said.
The blocks surrounding the old mill were still closed to traffic as of late Friday night, and it wasn't immediately clear when they would reopen.