PORTLAND — Workers at the Swiss Time watch and clock shop at 86 Exchange St. saw smoke coming from the back wall Monday morning, the first sign that the building was on fire.
“We saw the smoke coming out first and then all of a sudden we heard a crackling in the wall,” said store owner Claude Guyot.
While Guyot’s daughter Stephanie called 911 at 9:42 am., workers quickly moved intricate timepieces from the rear of the store to the front to try to protect them.
Five fire engines filled the block in front of the prominent building alongside Tommy’s Park, which also houses The Grill Room restaurant and some offices on the second and third floors.
By the time the fire was out, the building had sustained about $100,000 in damage, according to city spokeswoman Nicole Clegg.
All but two of the city’s fire companies were summoned to the scene because of the risk the fire could spread to the adjacent building and other nearby properties, said Fire Chief Jerome LaMoria. Nobody was injured. The cause of the fire remains under investigation, he said.
Some firefighters evacuated people from the building while others breached the wall to determine how far the fire had spread.
The fire was under control in about 30 minutes, LaMoria said. There appeared to be little damage from fire and water, he said.
Guyot had planned to go on vacation to his native Switzerland on Tuesday for three weeks, the longest vacation he’s ever planned, he said as he watched firefighters from the far side of Post Office Park. He didn’t know now if he would be able to take the trip.
“I hope for the best,” he said. Swiss Time has been at the location for almost two decades.
The building, which is owned by Steve Parker, was built in 1900. The side facing Tommy’s Park is distinctive for the elaborate mural that depicts a balcony and windows.
LaMoria said he did not know the extent of the sprinklers in the building, given its age, but said sprinklers often don’t deploy right away when a fire is confined to the walls, but do once the fire breaks through to the building’s interior.
The fire started in a first-floor wall at the rear of the building near the corner that connects to the building to the north.
About 45 minutes before the Exchange Street fire, firefighters also responded to a small fire in a baler at ecomaine, the regional waste facility off outer Congress Street.
David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: