GORHAM — An electrical fire started by a bathroom fan Thursday night ripped through the upper stories of the building that’s home to the popular Gorham House of Pizza and shut down the popular restaurant in the center of town.

The fire, which started in a second-floor apartment about 9:30 p.m., was accidental and not related to the recent string of arsons set at vacant buildings in the northern part of Gorham, said Danny Young, senior investigator for the state Fire Marshal’s Office.

The three-story building at 2 State St., by the intersection of Routes 25 and 114, is owned by Angelo Sotiropoulos, who opened the Gorham House of Pizza on the first floor 31 years ago. Six tenants, some of whom are students at the nearby campus of the University of Southern Maine, were displaced from the two apartments on the upper floors. No one was injured.

Although the restaurant wasn’t damaged by the fire, it suffered extensive water damage and probably won’t be able to reopen for at least a few months, Young said.

Amanda Hayes, who was working at the restaurant when the fire started, said she and other employees smelled something burning and at first thought it was food in the kitchen. A tenant from one of the apartments came into the restaurant to tell them there was a fire upstairs, she said.
Firefighters from eight departments responded.

“It was like watching my house burn down,” said Hayes, who has worked at the restaurant for 10 years, since she was 16.

Hundreds of people gathered at the scene Thursday, offering comfort to Sotiropoulos and watching firefighters battle the blaze into the night, said Fotine Sotiropoulos, the owner’s daughter.
The fire was extinguished between 2 and 3 a.m. Friday, Young said.

Young and others investigating the recent string of arsons in Gorham have been working late nights since the first of six suspicious fires was set on March 27. Thursday was the first night they were sent home early to get rest, he said. Then the call came in for a fire in Gorham.

Young said he went to the scene to make sure it wasn’t related to the arsons, then completed his investigation Friday morning, after the fire was extinguished.

Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, said Friday the investigation into the arsons is ongoing, and investigators are still encouraging people in town to report any suspicious activity.

“It takes only one good observation from a resident or passerby to bring this string of arsons to an end,” he said.

The fire above Gorham House of Pizza was the second accidental fire in town since the arsons began.

Sotiropoulos, 62, who emigrated from Greece nearly 40 years ago, said he was devastated Thursday night, but the support from the community “kept me going.”

Customers and friends of his, who stopped by the restaurant Friday morning, said it was the owner’s cheerfulness and sense of humor that made the restaurant such a popular place.
“He’s Gorham’s icon,” said Jeff Murphy of Windham, a customer.

Sotiropoulos, who lived above the restaurant for 13 years before moving to another home in Gorham, said he was grateful that no one was hurt and that the building wasn’t completely destroyed.
“It stands. There’s damage, but it stands,” he said.

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at: 791-6364 or at
[email protected]