WATERVILLE – A sprinkler system that was not working is to blame for much of the damage to a Main Street building that caught fire Friday afternoon, investigators said.

“Because the sprinklers were not working, that allowed for extensive fire damage inside the building,” Waterville Fire Department Chief David LaFountain said Saturday. “It could have been a lot less.”

The cause of the fire at 18 Main St. and the reason the sprinkler system was not working are still under investigation, although the fire is known to have originated from the porch of a third-floor apartment, said LaFountain.

“We are pretty sure it was related to a cooking fire on a grill, but we need to do more work,” he said.

The building at 18 Main St., which is owned by John Weeks, a former Waterville police officer, contains three apartments as well as two businesses on the ground floor. The entire building was extensively damaged by the fire Friday afternoon, said LaFountain.

“This is our income. This is what makes our house and allows us to support our children,” said Mona Juliano, as she stood amid the debris and water-damaged remains of INK-4-LIFE, the ground-floor tattoo shop she and her husband, Bill Juliano, own.

Friday’s fire also damaged two other buildings, including 16 Main St., also owned by Weeks, and the back of Silver Street Tavern, which is separated from 18 Main St. by a narrow alley and is owned by Charles Giguere.

The top two floors of the four-story building at 18 Main St. were destroyed and the roof was removed by firefighters Friday night, said LaFountain.

Weeks said the other floors are heavily damaged and he was unsure whether the building can be saved.

“I’m just waiting for an insurance evaluation,” he said. “With old buildings it is hard to tell what will happen.”

The 18 Main St. building, which dates to 1924, contained three apartments, two of which were occupied, as well as the tattoo shop and a wireless phone store, Top Dog Wireless.

Travis Corson, 27, lived in the apartment on the fourth floor but said Saturday that he hadn’t been home yet to see the damage.

“The landlord told me that everything is lost,” he said. “I lost electronics, bedding, my photos and photos of my family.”

Friday’s fire sent flames leaping across the alley from 18 Main St. to the back of 2 Silver St., burning some of the window frames there, LaFountain said. Firefighters entered the Silver Street building to put a hose through the fourth floor window and shoot water onto the Main Street building, he said.

LaFountain said the damage to 2 Silver St., which contains Silver Street Tavern as well as three apartments above the restaurant, was minimal. There was minor damage to the third floor, mostly in the hallway, as well as minor damage to the apartment on the fourth floor, he said.

Silver Street Tavern, along with The Last Unicorn and Cancun Mexican Restaurant on Silver Street, closed Friday and the power was turned off due to the danger of the fire spreading, said Waterville Fire Department Capt. Mike Michaud.

All three businesses reopened Saturday.

Hank Snipe, head chef at Silver Street Tavern, smoked a cigarette near the alley filled with charred wood and rubble on Saturday. He said he saw a police car pull up to the back door of the restaurant around 4:30 p.m. Friday.

“We came outside and the fire was raging. It was surreal,” said Snipe.

Meanwhile, the Julianos sifted through water-damaged debris at INK-4-LIFE.

“Everything is destroyed,” said Bill Juliano.

Rachel Ohm can be contacted at 612-2368 or at:

rohm@mainetoday.com