Fire at Houlton Airport impacts several local businesses

Published: Sep. 20, 2023 at 8:58 PM EDT
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HOULTON, Maine (WAGM) - A fire destroyed an old hangar building at the Houlton International Airport that was being used by several different businesses. On September 19 , 2023 at approximately 8pm the Houlton Fire Department received a 911 call informing them of a fire at the Houlton International Airport.

Houlton Fire Chief Milton Cone said that when the fire department arrived on the scene the entire industrial warehouse building, which contains at least 5 businesses, was entirely engulfed by the fire. “The flames were shooting out – obviously it was something you could see town-wide,” he said.

The Houlton Fire Department was supported by the Houlton Water Company, which supplied water and cut off power to the site to ensure maximum safety. “We knew we were going to be utilizing a large amount of water over there so we wanted them on scene to assist as well,” said Cone. He went on to explain that the fire department used a large amount of water to put out the fire. “We actually drew down a huge amount of water over there within 7 feet of draining the reservoir which would have created additional problems.”

The fire marshal is currently running an investigation into the cause and source of the fire. Although the cause is not yet known, Cone explained that there were many contributing factors to how the fire grew to such a large size. “There’s a lot of ignition sources that may be available but it’s a huge structure so a fire could burn for a long period of time and be quite a blaze before it actually breaks out of the structure.”

Additionally, Cone said that there were no active fire sprinkler systems in the building. “There wouldn’t be anything in the building to help slow the process down,” Cone expressed. He further explained that the metal interior of the building allowed the flames to increase without being visible from the outside of the building.

Although many parts of the building were destroyed, there were no injuries or fatalities. Nancy Ketch, the Community Development Director for the Town of Houlton, commented on the loss that the incident has caused for the community. “Thankfully [there was] no loss of life and people didn’t lose homes, but still people may have lost their livelihoods,” Ketch said. “We want to be there to assist and I suspect the entire community will rally around that and be ready to help as well.”

Due to the Houlton Fire Department’s efforts some things were even recovered from the scene, including two fully constructed tiny homes that were built by the Tiny Homes of Maine, a business that was operating out of the industrial site.

Tiny Homes expressed gratitude to the Houlton Fire Department for saving the buildings, with co-owner Tom Small stating that he was grateful for the help and support from the community. “I’d just like to thank everyone who helped out last night and all the support we’ve gotten,” Small said. Although two of the tiny homes were saved, the rest of the business’s materials, tools and supplies were “pretty much a total loss,” according to a spokesperson for Tiny Homes. In addition to Tiny Homes, numerous other businesses have experienced significant losses; the specifics of these losses are yet to be determined.

A historic tower located at the airport was also saved from the flames. The watchtower, which had been built during World War II, is a historical landmark for the town of Houlton. Additionally, some businesses were able to retrieve some personal and professional items. “Because of the way that the building was we were able to protect it to a certain point that some of the businesses were able to go in and recover some of the things within their buildings as well,” explained Cone.

The Town of Houlton is working on finding ways to support the business owners, employees and community members affected by the fire. Ketch has attempted to reach out to the businesses affected by the fire. Because the building was in the midst of changing ownership, Ketch has had some difficulty contacting all those affected. “Until we can reach all of the property and businesses owners we don’t know what they need,” Ketch said. “I’m not sure what we can do to help but we’re here and ready to do what we can.”

Ketch reached out to the Department of Labor to organize resources for those whose jobs have been affected by the fire. The Department of Labor will hold office hours at the Houlton Town Office on Thursday, September 21, 2023 from 9am to 12pm. “They will be available for those employees impacted by the fire,” Ketch confirmed. “The DOL staff can provide information and will also be able to help individuals file unemployment claims.”