KENTS HILL — A lakeside former sporting lodge and current rental property that has hosted guests for weddings, family reunions and vacations since 1937 burned to the ground Tuesday.
The lodge of Echo Lake Lodge and Cottages went up in flames despite the efforts of firefighters from multiple area departments and a neighbor who first came upon the fire, reported it to authorities and used a fire extinguisher to try to stop the blaze.
“I heard beeping, so I came down and could see smoke in the windows” on the second floor, said Glen Craig, a former owner of the property, who was working near the Echo Lodge Road fire scene on a lot where he plans to put a house. “I dialed 911 and ran into the kitchen to grab the fire extinguisher.
I knew where it was because I put it there. I started to go up the stairs. I was yelling, ‘Is anybody in here? Is anybody in here?’ but I didn’t hear any response. There was so much smoke I was coughing. I said, ‘That’s it. I need to get out of here.’”
He said he called the owner, who confirmed to him that nobody was staying in the lodge.
James Feagin, owner of the property with his wife, Evelyn, said the lodge is insured.
“I’m just glad nobody was in there,” he said.
The property was unoccupied at the time of the fire.
It had been used most recently by renters who left Sunday. Feagin said he knows the renters had a fire in the lodge’s fireplace.
He speculated that an ember from the fireplace might have caused a chimney fire that spread from the chimney into the lodge. The fire was reported at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday.
Readfield Fire Chief Lee Mank, who was in charge of the fire scene, said the fire’s cause is undetermined. A State Fire Marshal’s Office official visited the site Tuesday and is investigating the cause of the blaze.
Mank, who was still on the scene past 5:30 p.m., said no firefighters were hurt during the fire. He said the lodge was a total loss.
Feagin, who lives on part of the property in another cottage, said the lodge was built in 1936 and opened as a sporting camp the following year. He said over the years the lodge and cottages next to it, which the fire didn’t damage, have hosted numerous weddings, family reunions and vacationers who came back year after year.
“It was a sporting camp. It’s not so sporting now,” he said while watching firefighters battle the flames next to Echo Lake. “A lot of the same people have been coming here for years. Places like this are getting pretty rare these days.”
Craig said he sold the property about a year and a half ago. He said he still comes down to the tranquil lakeside site sometimes, just to see it.
The lodge is surrounded by trees and is about 100 feet from the lake. It had a screened porch overlooking the water, normally lined with rocking chairs. It had a fieldstone fireplace, seven bedrooms, five bathrooms and a deck that appeared to have been built recently; and it could accommodate 14 people overnight, according to the business’s website.
Firefighters pumped water directly from the lake and used tanker trucks to bring water down the narrow dirt road to a holding tank to help fight the blaze.
Mank said some trees around the lodge caught fire, but firefighters put out those flames before they spread to the surrounding forest.
Smoke from the fire could be seen from Route 17 near Kents Hill.
Firefighters from Fayette, Mount Vernon, Readfield, Vienna, Manchester and Livermore Falls responded, as did Winthrop Ambulance and a Central Maine Power Co. worker who disconnected electricity to the property. The Department of Environmental Protection also arrived to place booms around an oil tank on the property.
“We had a good turnout for manpower,” Mank said, noting Fayette’s participation in the Lakes Region Mutual Aid group.
Fayette Auxiliary volunteers brought bottled water, sandwiches and snacks for firefighters, who were at the scene for several hours in high heat and humidity.
Keith Edwards — 621-5647