WATERVILLE — Fire tore through the upper floors of a downtown building Friday, damaging two shops on the first floor and leaving three apartment tenants homeless.

Firefighters from four departments raced to the scene, where flames were shooting out of third- and fourth-floor windows and fire was ravaging wooden porches and fire escapes on the back of the building.

The four-story brick building on lower Main Street houses the tattoo shop INK-4-LIFE as well as Top Dog Wireless.

INK-4-LIFE owners Bill and Mona Juliano, both 38, said they think the fire started on a third-floor porch at the rear of the building, where a tenant was cooking on a grill.

“Her propane tank blew up,” Bill Juliano said. “It caught fire somehow,” Mona Juliano added.

Fire Chief David LaFountain did not confirm that report, but he said all aspects were being investigated and the State Fire Marshal’s Office was on the scene, helping to determine the cause of the fire.

John Weeks owns the building, which bears a brick saying it was built in 1924. Travis Corson, the building’s fourth-floor tenant, was standing across Main Street, tears streaming down his cheeks as he watched the building burn. Friends were giving him hugs.

“All my dad’s pictures, my grandfather’s stuff is gone,” he said. “All my clothes. I don’t know what I’m going to do.”

It was around 4 p.m. when firefighters, police and spectators converged on downtown, black smoke rolling out of windows on the burning building’s upper floors.

More than 30 firefighters from Waterville, Winslow, Oakland and Fairfield fought the blaze from the roof, from inside the building, on the ground and perched atop ladder trucks all around the building, the back of which faces Spring Street Extension.

They even climbed to the fourth floor of a building across the alley that houses Silver Street Tavern and put a hose through a window to shoot water toward the burning building.

Earlier, fire had leapt across the alley and burned some wooden window frames on the Silver Street building, which is owned by Charlie Giguere, according to LaFountain.

Police closed Main, Temple and Silver streets to traffic and firefighters laid hose down all streets surrounding the fire. Authorities evacuated businesses along Silver Street, including the Silver Street Tavern, The Last Unicorn restaurant and Cancun Mexican Restaurant. Power was shut off to those buildings.

There were no reports of injuries.

The building is just north of, and connected to, the former Waterville Hardware building, which was the site of a fire in the 1980s and now is unoccupied and owned by Angelo Shanos.

Shanos, who has done renovations to the building, stood on the sidewalk, watching as firefighters worked. He said a thick brick wall separates his building from the one that was burning, so he did not think his building was damaged.

Mayor Karen Heck rode her bicycle downtown after hearing about the fire. She said she was relieved that nobody was hurt.

“I really appreciate the firefighters’ ability to contain it to one building,” she said. “I’m grateful that they got here so quickly.”

She was talking to police Chief Joseph Massey, whose entire crew was downtown. The fire started when police were changing shifts, and they were all able to respond.

Police Detective David Caron was on scene, talking to people in the street. Fire Lt. Scott Holst said firefighters did a good job stopping the fire from spreading to other buildings.

“It was scary at first, though, because this is downtown and everything is so close,” he said.

Firefighters emerging from the building, hot and covered with soot and fire debris, sat down on curbs along the street and drank water from bottles before returning to the building.

Mona Juliano said she and her husband are not insured for their tattoo business, which employs six people, including themselves.

The business formerly was on College Avenue and moved to the Main Street building 1 1/2 years ago after Weeks moved his business, J.R.’s Pawn Shop, out of the space and into a building on Elm Street.

“We were doing procedures and a lady came in and told us to get out of the building and call 911 — it was on fire,” she recalled. “They won’t let us into the building. It’s all water damage. Our ceiling is floating down Main Street.”

She said her friends Joyanne and Jeff Varney lived in an apartment on the third floor.
Bill Juliano’s brother, Michael Juliano, owns Top Dog Wireless, which was housed on the first floor with the tattoo business.

“He just lost all his stuff,” Bill Juliano said.

Meanwhile, LaFountain said fire officials probably will return to the scene on Saturday to do more in-depth investigation.

When the fire started, Susan Day-Donna, 68, of Belgrade, stood on a grassy hill off Spring Street Extension, watching the spectacle. She said her father, George Donna, owned the Waterville Hardware building with Irving Leathers in the 1940s and 50s.

“I’m glad they’re not here (to see this),” she said. “I remember going there when I was a little kid. I used to play all over the place in there.”

Norton Webber, former owner of You Know Whose Pub on The Concourse, stood nearby.

“I’m good friends with J.R. (Weeks), so I feel really badly,” Webber said.

Dan McNulty and Tony Bernard said they saw the fire from the South End of the city and came to investigate.

“It was completely black smoke. It was really scary,” Bernard said.
LaFountain said just before 8 p.m. that firefighters were taking the roof off the building.

The Sidney Fire Department covered the Waterville fire station Friday.

Amy Calder — 861-9247
acalder@centralmaine.com