OLD ORCHARD BEACH — The manager of the Galaxy nightclub said a contractor was to start installing a sprinkler system in the club on Sept. 6, after most tourists had left the popular beachfront town.

Had the system been in place Monday, it might have saved the building.

Fire officials hope to determine today what caused the fire that broke out around 8:30 a.m. and gutted the two-story building at 10 East Grand Ave.

“Thank God the club was closed and nobody was in there,” said Danny Sisson, who has managed the Galaxy since 1994. His family leases the building from Blue Jay Inc. of East Providence, R.I.

Sisson vowed to rebuild the Galaxy, which for 17 years has had a spot in the heart of the town’s nightlife scene amid restaurants, hotels, The Pier and the Palace Playland Amusement Park.

“I got a call this morning, and we ran over here. I couldn’t believe it,” Sisson said. He thinks the fire was intentionally set.

“Too many people have tried to put me out of business,” he said. “I’m 100 percent sure of it. Even if (federal investigators say) it’s accidental, I won’t believe it.”

The fire is being investigated by Old Orchard Beach police, the state Fire Marshal’s Office and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

Investigators could not enter the building Monday, as firefighters continued extinguishing hot spots late in the afternoon. The investigators hope to get in this morning.

Dale Armstrong, the agent in charge of the ATF’s field office in Portland, declined to say whether arson is suspected.

“Fires are either accidental, arson or undetermined,” Armstrong said. “We don’t ever classify a fire until the whole scene is examined.”

The 78-year-old building has been renovated many times. The town’s assessment of the property this year is $573,800 – $263,000 for the building and $311,000 for the land. Sisson opened the club in late April. He said the property is insured by the owners, but he did not have insurance on the business.

Sisson said Blue Jay Inc. got several phone calls earlier this year from people who said they were interested in buying the Galaxy building. The callers tried to convince Blue Jay that the Galaxy was not a responsible tenant, Sisson said.

Old Orchard Beach Fire Chief John Glass said Scarborough firetrucks were the first to reach the fire, and were soon joined by crews from Old Orchard Beach, Saco and Biddeford.

Sisson unlocked one of the Galaxy’s doors as firefighters tried to make an entry.

“That attack was unsuccessful, because of the volume of the fire,” Glass said.

The main concern at that point was preventing the fire from spreading to nearby businesses. A T-shirt shop shares a wall with the Galaxy, and Ernesto’s Restaurant is directly to the west of the nightclub, separated by a narrow alley. Those structures appeared to be undamaged. For much of Monday morning, firefighters on several ladder trucks doused the Galaxy building with thousands of gallons of water.

“I’m really grateful for everything that everybody did today, and the fact that firefighters were able to keep the damage to that one building,” said Town Manager Jack Turcotte.

He said most business owners have told him this season has been good so far, but the bars have been struggling compared with past years. Police have had no major concerns about the Galaxy or any other nightclubs, Turcotte said.

The town’s fire department and code enforcement office inspected the Galaxy in May, after town officials received an anonymous email. The message, from a person who claimed to have been one of Sisson’s employees, alleged several code violations and described the nightclub as “a nightmare.”

“The place has no sprinkler system, the wiring in the place is so old and screwed up I have seen two fires in the wiring and arc-outs and overloads,” the anonymous emailer wrote. “This place is a time bomb.”

Michael Nugent, the town’s code enforcement officer, said he went to the Galaxy two days after receiving the email. He brought a licensed commercial electrician, and met Sisson and an electrician hired by Sisson at the building. Nugent said there were a few minor wiring problems that were fixed immediately, but nothing out of the ordinary.

“It seemed like everything was ready to go,” Nugent said.

The Galaxy was required to install a sprinkler system by next year to avoid a possible suspension of its state permit.

In 2007, state law changed to require nightclubs to install sprinklers. The law applies to clubs that allow dancing and have capacity for more than 100 people. Because of the financial and logistical hardships, the state gave clubs until 2012 to get the work done.

“For most facilities, if they communicated with us on an annual basis, they could keep operating,” said Tim Fuller, inspections supervisor with the Fire Marshal’s Office. “We need to have commitments from the facilities to say, ‘Yes, we are going to do that.’“

The Galaxy received a notice of violation from the state in July 2010 for not submitting a plan to address the sprinkler issue. Sisson submitted a plan, which was approved by the Fire Marshal’s Office on June 6, Fuller said.

Anyone with information about Monday’s fire that might help investigators should call (888) ATF-FIRE.

 

Staff Writer Trevor Maxwell can be contacted at 791-6451 or at: [email protected]