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'It could have been a lot worse': Fire ravages Red's Dairy Freeze in South Portland

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'It could have been a lot worse': Fire ravages Red's Dairy Freeze in South Portland

SOUTH PORTLAND — The owner of Red's Dairy Freeze on Monday said he hopes to reopen the landmark ice cream takeout business this summer after repairing damage done by an early morning fire Sunday.

Firefighters from Cape Elizabeth and South Portland responded to the single-alarm fire at 2:57 Sunday morning. No one was inside the 167 Cottage Road building when the fire broke out and firefighters were able to contain it in 20 minutes.

South Portland Fire Department Lt. Robb Couture said firefighters tracked the blaze to the bathroom and storeroom at the back of the building, where they believe the fire started.

From the outside the building does not appear heavily damaged, but Couture said the inside is a different story.

"A concrete building is like an oven — everything cooks," Couture said.

Investigators were at the scene Monday and determined the cause of the fire was electrical. 

"The building was secure when they got there. We don't believe it was anything suspicious," Couture said.

Chris Bolling, who now owns the business started in 1952 by his father, Leonard "Red" Bolling, was looking through the rubble Monday as the firefighters investigated.

"This was my dad's baby," he said. "I grew up here, my kids grew up here."

He said the seven ice cream machines were in the front of the building and would likely survive the fire with only smoke damage. The freezers were damaged by heat, but Bolling said he is hopeful they can be salvaged. 

Despite extensive damage to the back of the building, the front, where the ice cream is served, was in remarkably good shape. A plastic container of Reese's Pieces was unscathed, and a jar of chopped peanuts looked ready to top off a hot fudge sundae. The bright silver glint of the ice cream machines was blackened with soot, but even the plastic "chocolate" and "vanilla" labels survived.

"It could have been a lot worse," Bolling said.

The entire building was rewired in the early 1990s when Bolling expanded the back of the building. He said there had not been any trouble with the electrical system.

Insurance adjusters were also at the scene Monday to estimate the damage. Bolling said it would be difficult to estimate the total amount of the damage until all of the machines are examined. He said the building was fully insured.

Bolling said he is thankful for all the support from the community.

"My voicemail and e-mail is full," he said. "We really appreciate the support."

Bolling said he would begin rebuilding as soon as possible and hopes to be able to reopen this season.

"We couldn't let the city down," he said.

Emily Parkhurst can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 125 or eparkhurst@theforecaster.net