SOUTH PORTLAND — Teams of firefighters were ordered out of a burning building early Wednesday morning as the roof collapsed and flames erupted from the attic.

Investigators determined that the fire at 554 Main St., in the west end of the city, started in a recessed light fixture on the second floor, said Fire Chief Kevin Guimond.

“It had been burning in the attic about 40 minutes or so before anybody noticed,” he said.

Smoke alarms activated at 4:15 a.m. and woke the residents who were sleeping on the second floor. They escaped safely, Guimond said.

Few flames were showing when firefighters arrived, and six of them went inside to put the fire out. The got to the second-floor landing and directed water at the fire they could see.

Outside, Guimond saw the roof collapse and told his crews to retreat. Inside, the firefighters said over the radio that they were making good progress.

Guimond ordered them out.

“You can’t see the roof when you’re in the building,” Guimond said later. “We were very, very fortunate. If they had been in a little further, we would have been in a real tough spot.”

Suddenly, flames were pouring from the roof and the heat damaged the siding on a nearby house.

“We were within five minutes of having a second house on fire,” Guimond said. Firefighters from South Portland and Portland evacuated that house, he said.

Firefighters directed the large truck-mounted hoses onto the fire, generating a couple thousand gallons per minute compared with the 125 to 200 gallons per minute with a hand line, Guimond said.

The insurance company will determine whether the building is destroyed, he said. The walls are sturdy but the roof is caved in.

The interior, which includes a chiropractic office on the first floor and residential space on the second, sustained primarily water damage, he said.

The busy street was closed to traffic for most of Wednesday morning.

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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