Munjoy Hill fire sends 5 people to hospital and destroys townhouse complex

Five people were injured – one seriously – in a predawn fire Saturday that destroyed a townhouse apartment complex on Munjoy Hill in Portland, authorities said.

“It was a huge fire,” Deputy Fire Chief Kevin McGuire said of the blaze at 117-119 North St. “Five civilians were taken to the hospital.”

The fire at 117 and 119 North St. was reported at 3:07 a.m. Saturday with reports that the fire started in the garage and spread to two townhouses, firefighters said. Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

The person in critical condition was taken to Maine Medical Center. “All five were outside the building when firefighters arrived,” Fire Captain John Brennan said.

The 911 call came in at 3:07 a.m. with a report of a garage fire spreading through the building, Brennan said.

When firefighters arrived from nearby Munjoy Hill station, they found heavy fire at the rear of the building. The commander quickly sounded a second alarm, Brennan said. The blaze was so intense that a third alarm quickly sounded, emptying all of Portland’s fire stations to send available firefighters to the scene. Mutual aid units from nearby towns came to staff Portland’s fire stations.

Firefighters evacuated several nearby buildings as a precaution, Brennan said.

He said they worked aggressively to contain the fire and at one point entered the building, but not for long as they determined the roof was on the verge of collapse. “The roof collapsed, (but) the fire department was out by then,” Brennan said.

The building didn’t have sprinklers, but it was built with firewalls separating the townhouses, and that helped firefighters, Brennan said. “Even though there was a lot of fire, the firewalls contained the fire in both units. The building is unfortunately a total loss, but the fire did not reach the other units.

WMTW-TV reported that the apartment complex had eight townhouses.

The scene was cleared at 8:15 a.m. The cause of the fire is not known and is under investigation.

Freezing weather hampered the initial investigation on Saturday, Brennan added. “Temperatures were in the teens, and everything at the scene is freezing.” Icicles hung from nearby power lines, trees and bushes. “Luckily it hadn’t started snowing yet, but with the amount of water they were putting in, everything was freezing,” he noted.

The weather also made it a difficult fire to fight. “It was so windy it spread quickly,” said Susan Mann, who lives across the street from the blaze. The fire appeared to start on the second floor, she said, adding that she was pleased to hear that all residents of the building were out.

Video of the blaze on the Portland Fire Department’s Facebook page shows just how dramatic the blaze was, with flames shooting above the roof of the building.

The Red Cross has been contacted to help those left homeless by the fire, Portland Police Department spokesman David Singer said.

No firefighters on the scene were injured, and there were many. More than 50 responded with a total of nine fire engines and several other emergency vehicles, including several ambulances.

Brennan said the fires often break out in the winter when residents try to get warm.

“People try ways to heat homes that aren’t always the safest,” such as placing radiators too close to something that can easily ignite, or turning on the oven and leaving the oven door opened.

“These are things we see,” Brennan said. In addition to having smoke detectors with working batteries, it is important to use a portable heater or other device as instructed, and residents should ensure that devices are certified by Underwriters Laboratories, he said.

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