UPDATE: Nearby businesses cope with impact of Jordan's Meats fire
PORTLAND — Businesses forced to close last week because of a massive fire at the former Jordan's Meats plant on India Street are back in business, but some are still without valuable street parking and all lost at least a night's worth of income.
The fire forced at least 14 businesses to close Thursday, May 6. Two food-service businesses were ordered to remain closed Friday by city inspectors.
Micucci's Grocery on India Street had to stay closed Friday, so workers could clean up. The store keeps a lot of its inventory in cold storage, owner Rick Micucci said, and power was out for much of Thursday.
"We had items we had to dispose of," Micucci said. He didn't know how much food was lost due to the loss of power, or how much he lost in business. Micucci's also has a wholesale delivery service that could not operate Thursday afternoon or Friday.
The business did not suffer smoke damage.
"This building is very well sealed," Micucci said. He said he plans to invest in a generator, he "that will be my own insurance policy."
Eddie Fitzpatrick, an owner of The Pepperclub restaurant on Middle Street, said he plans to speak with other business owners in the neighborhood to see if there is anything they can do to recover the money lost last week.
The Pepperclub, although closest to the former hot dog plant, sustained no smoke damage and was open for business Friday.
Fitzpatrick said besides the loss of business Thursday night, the greatest obstacle could be parking along Middle Street, which remains prohibited.
"We're lucky because we have off-street parking," Fitzpatrick said. "A more lasting affect for others, though, is the whole street is closed to parking."
According to Fitzpatrick, the owner of Jordan's property, Opechee Construction, has worked well with local businesses since the developer proposed building a hotel on the property earlier this year. Opechee had even agreed to compensate businesses for the two days Middle Street was expected to be shut during demolition of the building.
"I'm not sure where we stand on that now," Fitzpatrick said.
The Pepperclub lost about $200 in food because of the fire, Fitzpatrick said. The food was not in refrigerators, but in Fitzpatrick's because he had just picked it up and was getting ready to unload when the fire started and he was forced to leave the area.
"I wasn't allowed to move the car," he said.
The specific cause of the fire that engulfed the former Jordan's Meats plant will probably never be known, officials said Friday.
But the blaze was believed to be an accident, probably caused by demolition activity in the building.
The owner of the property, meanwhile, said the fire wouldn't pose much of a delay for his plans to build a hotel on the site.
City Hall spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said work by investigators from the Portland Fire Department, Portland Police Department, state fire marshal's office and the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives "determined that the cause of the fire cannot be confirmed due to the amount of damage sustained by the structure.
"The cause was most likely accidental in nature and potentially the result of demolition activities. As a result of this conclusion, there will be no further investigation," the statement said.
Portland Fire Chief Frederick LaMontagne said at a press conference outside the gutted building Friday afternoon that crews were on scene until late Thursday night, and had returned a few times to put out "hotspots."
The chief said that although the cause of the fire will never be known, demolition crews were using torches and other equipment that generate sparks. The factory, he said, is an old building with several additions.
"That creates pockets for hidden fire," the chief said.
Flames were first seen coming from the second story near the middle of the building.
The fire was confined to the former meat plant, which takes up nearly a city block between Franklin, Middle, India and Fore Streets. It is being demolished to make way for a new hotel, restaurant and condominiums.
Penny Littell, the city's planning and urban development director, said Friday that of the 14 businesses forced to close Thursday because of the fire, 10 were open Friday.
"We had the inspectors out this morning," Littell said, and insurance representatives were assessing any possible damage.
In addition to Micucci's grocery, Benkay restaurant on India Street remained closed Friday. Both businesses, Clegg said, had a lot of inventory stored in coolers and had lost power for much of Thursday afternoon.
Mark Woglom, president of Opechee Construction, said it was unfortunate the building caught fire, and that he was grateful no one was injured.
He said demolition will continue.
"It might amount to a setback of days," Woglom said Friday. "We'll have to take the building down in a slower fashion."
Plumes of thick, black smoke engulfed the east end of the city Thursday afternoon as firefighters fought to control the massive, three-alarm blaze.
LaMontagne said the department received a call at 1:30 p.m. Thursday reporting fire in the building, which is being demolished to make way for a hotel.
"The fire was spreading rapidly," LaMontagne said. The construction crews were evacuated immediately. No injuries were reported, he said.
Portland had nearly 100 firefighters on the scene, and several surrounding towns were providing mutual aid, LaMontagne said.
Approximately 100 bystanders watched the blaze from India Street near the corner of Middle Street, as firefighters fought from high on ladders and blasted the broken-out windows of the building with water. Flames could be seen near the roof of the building.
LaMontagne said there were no firefighters inside the building because it was structurally unsafe due to the demolition work.
Strong winds were also causing trouble.
"(The fire) is stable right now, but not under control," LaMontagne said at about 2:55 p.m. Thursday. "We're going to be here for several more hours."
Businesses surrounding the former hot dog factory were either evacuated or closed when the fire started, and power was out in the immediate area and also on part of Munjoy Hill.
At Duckfat, a restaurant on Middle Street behind Jordan's, diners were reportedly so alarmed by the fire some tried to leave through the kitchen.
Opechee Construction recently purchased the Jordan's property, which has been vacant since 2005, with plans to build a Hampton Inn, condominiums and a new home for Sebago Brewing Co. Part of the building, along Franklin Street, has already been torn down.
The city this week expected to shut Franklin, India, Middle and Fore streets to traffic and pedestrians as need so demolition could occur. Crews also began installing a sewer line.
As a result, westbound traffic will not be allowed on Fore Street and will be detoured to Commercial Street. Franklin Street northbound will be reduced to one lane at the intersection of Fore Street.
The work is expected to take a week.
Kate Bucklin can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or firstname.lastname@example.org