About 60 responders from the Madawaska Fire Department and both the Edmundston, N.B and St. Jacques, N.B. fire departments responded to the fire on lower 11th on Tuesday, July 31. The building, which had collapsed and was roped off Wednesday morning, is a total loss, according to Madawaska’s interim fire chief, Peter Parent.
Nelson and Rachel Henry owned the building which had six units, one of which was unoccupied at the time of the fire. They lived in a top-floor apartment. Henry is a dentist who practices in both Madawaska and Windham. He has owned the building for 11 or 12 years, although he has only lived in it himself for the past couple.
"It was the most incredible place," he said, adding that people have been walking by most of the day, talking about the building that used to be where a pile of wood, rubble and personal belongings now sits. "There was something about that place," said Henry. Eight people lived in the building, Parent said Wednesday morning, and all of the residents got out safely.
The call came in to the Madawaska Fire Department at 2:18 p.m., Parent said, and firefighters were back at the fire station by 9:30 p.m. On Tuesday, firefighters were at first trying to contain the blaze to the upper section of the building as well as protect nearby homes. As of Wednesday morning, all that was left of the building was part of an apartment, with bunk beds and a white bedspread seen clearly on the other side of a missing wall, and a standing garage.
The building was insured, Parent said. The cause of the fire may have been electrical and appears to have started in a wall on the third floor, according to Parent. No one was living in that section of the building, he added.
The Madawaska fire follows closely on the heels of an early Tuesday morning apartment fire on Ferry Street in Edmundston, where the Madawaska Fire Department went to help battle the fire. Nine residents were left homeless following that fire.
"We were very lucky," said Betty Morin, who lives her husband Mike in the home that sits just feet from the structure that was destroyed by the Madawaska fire. The Morins said that their home seemed to have sustained only minor damage from fire's heat and the water applied to their house to prevent the fire spreading.
One resident, Rebecca Russell, 29, was able to leave her apartment with her cat, and not much else, according to her friend Kether Martin of St. Agatha. When Martin got the call from Russell, she said within 10 minutes she was at her friend's side, although there was little either could do. "We watched it burn," said Martin, who was at the scene on Wednesday afternoon going through the rubble for any of her friend's belongings that may have been salvageable. Martin said on Wednesday that Russell had been staying with family, but thought she may have already secured a new apartment. "The support is amazing in this town," added Martin. "It's humbling."
On Wednesday morning the Pine Tree chapter of the American Red Cross had three of its Disaster Relief Team members assisting those affected. Bob Bouchard of Frenchville, along with Ken Urquhart and Daniel Lee, were set up at the conference room of the Madawaska town office.
The fire on Tuesday also affected nearby residents and business owners. Staff at Jeff's Pizza, located across from where 11th Avenue connects to Main Street, said that the eatery closed at 3:30 the day of the fire because of the strong odor of smoke permeating their building, although they reopened as usual on Wednesday. Staff and clients at the St. John Valley Associates building next to the fire, will not be so fortunate. The building also houses the Forever Young Club's Senior Center on its bottom floor. The offices one the upper floor received heavy smoke damage, and the air exchange system is emitting sooty pungent air, according to Megan Gendreau, executive director for St. John Valley Associates. The organization, which offers day habilitation for adults diagnosed with developmental disabilities and Autism, has had to shut its doors until further notice, said Gendreau. "Our clients will have to remain at home without services, " she said. She hopes that with a week or two their offices will be able to reopen. Gendreau also said that services at the senior center would also be halted, including the Meals on Wheels program, until other arrangements can be made. "The fire department did a great job protecting our building," added Gendreau. "They had guys on the roof and everything."
Rachel Henry, who lived in the building with her husband, two sons and the family cat, said that she heard about the fire while on her way back from Fort Kent. Henry was thankful that nobody was injured in the blaze, including the couple's two children and pet, although the family was unable to remove any items before the fire spread out of control.
Among the initial efforts to assist those tenants affected by the fire is an offer from NorState Federal Credit Union, which owns several properties in Madawaska. Paul Berube at Norstate said that the institution has assisted two affected tenants and is offering to wave the first month's rent for those relocating. The Good Samaritan Shop in Madawaska has also offered to provide former tenants with clothing items at no charge, according to Claudette Morin, who manages the thrift shop. Morin also said that the St. Thomas church is working to make some furniture available to help people get back into a new place. Henry said he encourages anyone to help with fundraisers and to make donations, as his former tenants and his own family will likely need some help getting back to a normal life after losing so much.
For the building's owner, the safety of his family and tenants is paramount, but the loss is a tough one. "I feel like I was the luckiest guy in the world to own that place," Henry said. "It was an absolute treasure."