Scarborough fire blamed on electrical problem

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SCARBOROUGH — A three-alarm fire that ravaged Scarborough Commons at 153 U.S. Route 1 for nearly nine hours Monday caused at least $1 million worth of damage, according to the Maine Department of Public Safety.

Fire Chief Michael Thurlow and Sgt. Tim York, an investigator with the Office of the State Fire Marshal, on Tuesday said the fire was accidental and caused by an electrical system malfunction. 

The building’s owner said no decision has been made about whether to rebuild or repair the structure.

The fire began at 7:21 p.m. Monday at the 24,000-square-foot office complex, which is across the street from Lois’ Natural Marketplace at the intersection with Portland Farms Road. Firefighters did not clear the scene until 4:30 a.m. Tuesday. 

Thurlow said 16 businesses occupied the space, including local engineering firm Northeast Civil Solutions, two massage centers, two medical practices, two travel agencies, a hair salon, and a legal center.

All the businesses experienced significant interior damage, and most were destroyed and displaced.

There were no injuries, although three firefighters were sent to the hospital as a precaution for heat exhaustion. All three were later released.

More than half a dozen neighboring fire departments came to the aid of Scarborough crews over the course of the evening.

The town assessor’s office said Scarborough Commons was built in 1984, and several additions to the building were made in succeeding years.

Thurlow said the investigation concluded the fire began with a wire in a ceiling void in the back of the office building that was not protected by a sprinkler system, because that section was built before regulations required such protection.  

Had there been sprinklers in the area, and had the building been smaller, Thurlow said, the fire would have been easier to control.

The building’s owner, Richard Aube, said Thursday his insurance company will seal off the office starting next Monday for up to three weeks to assess the damage. Until then, Aube said a decision about whether the building will be repaired or replaced is unclear.

“I’ll tell you, it’s still like, ‘Wow, did this really take place?'” he said. “I can’t describe it. It is an emotional time.”

With the help of fire officials, several dozen tenants of the building began gathering what remained of their offices on Tuesday afternoon. Many were teary-eyed while sifting through burned files and ash-covered desk chairs. 

“There was a lot lost here,” Cynthia Atkinson, of In Balance Therapeutic Massage, said. “It’s gone, it’s all gone.”

Karen Martin, executive director of the Scarborough Economic Development Corp., offered support to business owners and said SEDCO would connect them with resources.

“The important thing is to get people back to their livelihood,” Martin said. “It’s been emotional for tenants; they’re stunned, like everybody else.”

Aube praised the efforts from town officials in helping him and his tenants.

“The library, SEDCO, and the town have been absolute saints,” he said. “They come through.”

A Rapid Response team from the state Department of Labor was scheduled to meet with business employees displaced by the fire on Thursday at 1 p.m. at the town Municipal Building.

Community members also stepped up to assist. Gallery Hair Design partner Monica Lagasse said her four-stylist salon was already offered space at John Douglas Salon and Relaxation Studio at 253 U.S. Route 1.

“Everyone was so helpful; they couldn’t have been nicer,” Lagasse said. “Let me tell you, it teaches you to appreciate what you’ve got. Because you never know.”

Shelby Carignan can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 106 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter: @shelbycarignan.

Sidebar Elements

State and local fire investigators determined Monday’s three-alarm fire at Scarborough Commons on U.S. Route 1 was caused by an electrical malfunction.

Firefighters battle flames at Scarborough Commons on U.S. Route 1 on Monday night, Sept. 8.

Damage to the multi-tenant office building was “extensive,” Scarborough Fire Chief Michael Thurlow said Tuesday morning. 

Assistance for displaced workers

The Maine Department of Labor’s Portland and Springvale CareerCenters will be the points of contact for business employees displaced by the Scarborough Commons fire.

The Portland CareerCenter is at 185 Lancaster St. in Portland; the Springvale CareerCenter is at 9 Bodwell Court in Springvale. Both are open 8 a.m.-5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

More information is available on the CareerCenter website,