Valley Auto sets up at ski lodge, another location found
by Don Eno, Monique Labbe, Tory Bonenfant, and Jeremy Boulier
Oct 03, 2012 | 13352 views | 0 0 comments | 20 20 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Valley Auto fire in Fort Kent
Flames engulfed the Valley Auto car dealership in Fort Kent, on Wednesday, Oct. 3, 2012.
- SJVT photo / Don Eno
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UPDATED: 1:30 p.m., Oct. 5, 2012

FORT KENT, Maine - The staff of Valley Auto has set up shop temporarily at the Lonesome Pine Trails lodge. Even as the dealership was burning to the ground on Wednesday morning, Oct. 3, Pat Theriault said people were moving records, computers and other office items from the business to the rental shop located on the first floor of the ski lodge.

"We’re here and we're functioning," Theriault said Friday morning. The location at the Fort Kent ski hill is also serving as a parking lot for the vehicle inventory.

Theriault said that plans are shaping up that will enable the dealership's service staff to get back to work repairing vehicles. She said a location has been found and may be up and running by the middle of next week.

The fire marshal's office has said the cause of the fire is undetermined because of the extent of the damage, according to Fort Kent Fire Chief Ed Endee.

UPDATED: 11:40 a.m., Oct. 4, 2012

FORT KENT, Maine - FairPoint work crews remain on site in Fort Kent repairing damage to utility lines from yesterday’s fire at Valley Auto, according to a press release from the company. The fire destroyed the dealership’s building on West Main Street and damaged approximately 1,200 feet of fiber cable and 500 feet of copper cable.

FairPoint crews completed splicing the fiber cable at approximately 8:15 p.m. on Wednesday evening, and Internet and phone service was restored to the towns of St. John, Allagash, St. Francis and Dickey, including Violette Plantation, according to the statement. The fiber repair also restored service to the U.S. Customs office in Fort Kent. Crews continued working through the night.

FairPoint reports that the service on west side of Fort Kent was impacted as a result of the damaged copper cable.

"The process of splicing copper back together is delicate and time-consuming and crews continue to work to repair the damaged cable," said Jeff Nevins, Maine and New Hampshire Public Relations for FairPoint Communications, in an email. The company will work until service is restored, and hopes to have service restored to the areas of Fort Kent impacted by the fire by early Thursday evening, according to the press release.

UPDATED: 5:55 p.m., Oct. 3, 2012

FORT KENT, Maine - Although the owners of Valley Auto in Fort Kent saw 14 years of work succumb to flames and black smoke today, Carl Theriault and his wife Pat are already looking at getting back to business.

Eldon Devoe, an employee at the car and truck dealership, said that Theriault was already trying to secure garage space for his mechanics to get back to servicing customer vehicles, possibly as early as Thursday or Friday this week.

Firefighters from several departments around the St. John Valley responded this morning to yet another downtown fire in Fort Kent. It was just six months ago that the town lost three businesses and a historic building to a late night blaze.

This time it was Valley Auto, formerly Etscovitz Sons Garage, that was lost, a vehicle dealership that had been at the corner of West Main and Elm streets, under one name or another since 1920.

While water collected in the back lot of his business, Theriault was juggling time between coordinating offers of help from other merchants regarding places to store vehicles, and talking with his staff about what could be done to keep disruption to customers to a minimum.

"It started in the attic," Carl Theriault said, standing in the parking lot behind the ruins of a business he has owned since 1998.

"The building is from 1920. It's old wood," Theriault said, adding that the fire did not take long to spread. "It went quick."

Theriault and his employees said that within minutes smoke and flames had crossed the attic space. He estimated the fire was noticed at 8:45 a.m., Wednesday, Oct. 3. Shortly after that, the call went out to emergency services.

The Fort Kent Police Department and U.S. Customs and Border Protection were helping divert traffic around the sections of West Main and Elm streets that were closed off due to the fire. As of 5:30 p.m. Wednesday, the Fort Kent Police Department confirmed that Elm Street will remain closed while power and telephone companies continue repairs, but that all other streets were open.

Devoe said that about 20 people were working this morning, including two men getting parts in an attic storage space.

"The guys (in the attic space) thought it was water dripping," when they heard the fire crackling, Devoe said.

Devoe and several other employees were gathered behind Valley Auto, were they had been able to drag out tools, and auto parts, supplies and shelving, saving them from destruction in the fire.

"I could hear crackling above me," said another employee, Derek Young. Young said he was working in the parts area on the ground floor and said he could also feel the heat emanating from the ceiling.

People kept going in to get items out until the firefighters told them it was no longer safe to do so, Young said. Theriault said that many of the computer hard drives containing valuable inventory and sales records, were able to be salvaged as well.

Once other employees notified Theriault of the apparent fire, Young said an announcement came over the loudspeaker for everyone to get out.

By 11:40 a.m., firefighters were pouring water onto what was by then only rubble and occasional flames. The ladder truck from the Madawaska Fire Department had its ladder-based water nozzle extended high above the blackened pile of wood and twisted metal.

The entire dealership, include the showroom and service area was destroyed. Fort Kent Fire Chief Ed Endee and Theriault confirmed that no one was injured in the fire, including emergency services team members.

Clearly relieved that no one was injured in the fire, Theriault said that all of the showroom vehicles were removed without serious damage. Assistance not only came from his employees, but also from passersby as well.

"Within a half-hour there must have been 150 people here," Theriault said, some asking for keys to help move vehicles from the lot.

Along with Fort Kent firefighters, personnel from North Lakes Fire and Rescue, the Eagle Lake Fire Department, the St. Agatha Fire Department, and the Baker Brook, N.B. Fire Department responded to the fire, along with fire trucks from Madawaska, Frenchville, Clair, N.B. and St. Francois, N.B.

Volunteers brought water and food to firefighters battling the fire, and food platters to the group of Valley Auto employees who were on the scene.

Ambulance crews from as far as St. Agatha were also on the scene, although their services had not been needed, as of noontime. Personnel from the Madawaska ambulance department confirmed that their offer of assistance was not needed at the scene.

Kevin Plourde, a Maine Public Service employee at the scene, said that one on the poles on Elm Street had briefly caught fire.

"We knew that if that pole goes down with live power, it would be dangerous for those firefighters," he said. The decision was made to cut power not only to the dealership but also to a larger area, as a safety precaution.

As an indirect result of the fire, power was cut to 610 customer accounts in downtown Fort Kent at 9:24 a.m., according to Virginia Joles, senior communications specialist for MPS.

MPS crews were able to isolate and restore power to a portion of the circuit at 9:57 a.m., she said in an email. However, customers along Hall Street and West Main Street were still without power, as of mid-day. Joles added would power be restored after the fire is under control.

The Northern Maine Medical Center’s wellness building, adjacent to Valley Auto, did not appear to be extensively damaged. Joanne Fortin, director of nursing for NMMC, said that there is some heat damage to the metal-sided building.

Fortin also said that people at the wellness center, once they heard of the fire, worked quickly to remove records and equipment from places likely to be affected before the fire department advised they could no longer remain there.

The Fort Kent Fire Department then used thermal-imaging cameras to check if that building was safe, and before noon NMMC staff had been able to move items back.

At approximately 10:15 a.m., some of the walls were still standing, even though the interior was gutted and black, still bellowing flame. People gathered along sidewalks and in dooryards and parking lots on all sides of the dealership.

However, by 11 a.m. the only recognizable parts of the structure were several metal walls at the western end of the building. Firefighters had attacked the fully engulfed fire from all sides, and worked to protect nearby buildings.

The intensity of the blaze, and some flying embers, had also charred part of a grass embankment across from the garage on Elm Street.

Tim Lowell, from the state's fire marshal’s office, was on scene by 11:30 a.m. As of late Wednesday afternoon, there has been no confirmation about likely causes of the fire.

As she watched her former place of employment burn to the ground, Cheryl Tetreault commented with resignation that her father's vehicle was among the few in the service garage area that could not be saved.

Tetreault said she was the one who placed the call to 911 once Theriault had been told about a fire in the attic space. When she called emergency services, she said she made sure they knew the business, by its nature, had various combustible materials inside.

Firefighters also had to deal with supplying water to all sides of the large building. Mark E. Soucy, head of Fort Kent's Water and Wastewater Department, was at the scene, with other department staff.

Soucy said that during the downtown fire in March, firefighters had quickly depleted the water in the hydrant system. This time, he said, responders had set up multiple sources, including portable tanks and dump tanks on trucks, as well as town hydrants.

While firefighters battled the flames in the fire's early stages, dark smoke from the fire could be seen from West Main Street, Clair, N.B., and from beyond the hospital, heading in to Fort Kent from Frenchville.

Starting out as Etscovitz Sons Garage in 1920 and dealing in American Motor Company cars, Jake Escovitz would eventually add many other brands to his business. In 1987, Etscovitz's son Harry sold the business to Yvon Long of Clair, N.B., from whom Theriault would later purchase the dealership.

HERE IS A LOOK AT THE ST. JOHN VALLEY TIMES COVERAGE OF THIS STORY AS IT HAPPENED.

UPDATE:

ONLINE FIRST: FORT KENT, Maine - Firefighters have been dowsing the remaining rubble and flames at the fire in downtown Fort Kent, which appears to have completely destroyed Valley Auto. Fort Kent Fire Chief Ed Endee has confirmed that no one was injured in the fire or in the response teams at the Fort Kent scene.

Volunteers have been bringing water and food to firefighters battling a fire at Valley Auto in downtown Fort Kent that began early Wednesday morning, while the smoke from that fire can be seen from as far away as Frenchville.

North Lakes Fire and Rescue, the Eagle Lake Fire Department, the St. Agatha Fire Department, and the Baker Brook, N.B. Fire Department are helping fight the fire, along with fire trucks from Madawaska, Frenchville, Clair, N.B., St. Francois, N.B. were all called to assist Fort Kent.

Passers-by moved quickly to volunteer and help get vehicles out of the building when news of the fire spread, and all were salvaged except for two in the service center.

Power was also cut to 610 customer accounts in downtown Fort Kent at 9:24 a.m., according to Virginia Joles, senior communications specialist for Maine Public Service. MPS crews were able to isolate and restore power to a portion of the circuit at 9:57 a.m., she said in an email. However, customers along Hall Street and West Main Street are still without power, which she added will be restored after the fire is under control.

The Northern Maine Medical Center’s Wellness building, close to Valley Auto, does not appear to be extensively damaged. Joanne Fortin, director of nursing for NMMC, said that there is some heat damage to the metal-sided building. The Fort Kent Fire Department used thermal-imaging cameras to check if that building was safe.

Fortin also said that people at the wellness center, once they heard of the fire, worked quickly to remove and save as many medical records as they could before the fire department advised they could no longer remain there.

Volunteers have also been bringing food platters to Valley Auto employees who are on the scene volunteering where they can to help.

The Fort Kent Police Department and U.S. Customs and Border Protection are helping divert traffic around the sections of Main Street closed off due to the fire.

ONLINE FIRST: FORT KENT, Maine - Firefighters responded to a large fire at Valley Auto in downtown Fort Kent. By 9 a.m. Wednesday, Oct. 3, the business was engulfed in flames and smoke.

Fire trucks from Fort Kent, Madawaska, Frenchville, Clair, N.B., St. Francois, N.B., and other nearby towns were called to assist.

Despite firefighters’ efforts, the fire became fully involved and flames were coming out of windows, with the interior appearing completely lost. By 10 a.m., the walls were “gutted” on the inside, said Marie Theriault, mother of Valley Auto’s owner Carl Theriault.

The owners were able to get all the computers and vehicles out, but apart from that, there was nothing left, she said.

Power was also out on a portion of Fort Kent, beginning at approximately 9:30 a.m.

As of 10:40 a.m., firefighters continued to battle flames and the smoke from the fire could be seen from West Main Street and Clair, N.B.