The long-vacant Sanford mill building known as the Stenton Trust burned Friday night.Firefighters from all over York County and beyond fought the blaze. This image is from the intersection of North Avenue and Thompson Street and shows the rear section of the vast mill in flames. The building fronts on River Street, near the downtown. More details and images will be available Saturday morning. TAMMY WELLS/Journal Tribune

The long-vacant Sanford mill building known as the Stenton Trust burned Friday night.Firefighters from all over York County and beyond fought the blaze. This image is from the intersection of North Avenue and Thompson Street and shows the rear section of the vast mill in flames. The building fronts on River Street, near the downtown. More details and images will be available Saturday morning. TAMMY WELLS/Journal Tribune

SANFORD  — Fire roared through the rear tower of the vacant five-story former textile mill on River Street known locally as Stenton Trust, erupting just before 7 p.m. Friday night.

The Stenton Trust mill fire from across Number One Pond on William Oscar Emery Drive around 7:15 p.m. Friday. TAMMY WELLS/Journal Tribune

The Stenton Trust mill fire from across Number One Pond on William Oscar Emery Drive around 7:15 p.m. Friday. TAMMY WELLS/Journal Tribune

Flames shot out of every window in the rear of the structure.

More than 100 firefighters from 20 departments from York County and nearby New Hampshire communities fought the raging fire from the exterior of the 300,000 square foot mill.

Deputy Fire Chief Steve Cutter said firefighters were met with heavy fire as they arrived at the mill, located on the eastern border of  the  downtown/millyard area, and the fire quickly went to five alarms.

Sanford Police just after midnight put out the word they were looking for information.

“We are seeking the public’s help with any information relating to this incident,” police said on their Facebook page. “Citizens are asked to contact our tip line at 324-3644 ex. 170.”

Cutter at a press briefing just after 10 p.m. Friday said there were no injuries reported.

He called the fire “odd,” considering the time of day it erupted — it was still daylight when  the fire was reported at 6:50 p.m.

He said investigators from the  Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives, the Maine Fire Marshal’s Office, Sanford Police Department and Sanford Fire Marshal Patrick Cotter were investigating.

At the briefing, Cutter said firefighters believed  the fire was contained to the rear tower but that York County Emergency Management Agency was preparing to launch a drone that night to see if they could determine if the had jumped to the portion of the concrete mill that fronts on River Street.

The structure is comprised of two parallel concrete mills joined by an enclosed  walkway structure.

Cutter said one wall of the rear tower was bowing, and that firefighters had created a collapse zone, just in case.

Firefighters used the city’s hydrant  system and also drew water from Number One Pond.

Folks who watched it from the intersection of North Avenue and Thompson Street said it went up quickly.

Back downtown retired firefighter Kevin Harmon was at the scene, camera in hand.

“I was here within 10 minutes of the call,” said Harmon. “I walked down High Street snapping pictures,” he said, showing images of flames roaring out of the mill’s windows.

Others watched from across Number One Pond, at William Oscar Emery Drive.

There were people everywhere and speculation into what had transpired  churned — so much speculation  so that Sanford Police on Friday night put out a message on social media, asking folks to refrain from spreading rumors.

Though empty for most of the last decade — that last known business to occupy part of the mill structure was a wooden toy company in the mid to late 2000s — it had once been a showpiece in the Goodall textile mill empire. It later became the home of Seamloc Carpet. Later still, it housed a number of smaller businesses.

City documents list the owner as Gateway Properties LLC, a company owned by Jonathan Morse, with a Reno, Nevada address.  Morse acquired the mill in 1999 and once operated a business there, but the mill  has essentially been  abandoned for  nearly a decade.

The 1922 concrete mill structure was sold at auction  in 2009 by a bank known at the time as Savings Bank of Maine for $210,000, which held the mortagage on the property, but  the prospective  buyers never closed on the deal. They told municipal leaders at the time that the rear portion of the structure — the part that burned Friday night — was in too poor condition for renovation.

The wing of the building closest to River Street, known as Tower A, was said to have been in  the best condition. The smaller “B” portion joined the two parallel mill structures. Tower “C,” the building that burned, had by 2009  deteriorated to the point that rehabilitation was considered impractical, city leaders said at the time.

The building had been stripped of electrical wiring, copper tubing associated with plumbing and even the copper flashing from the roof had been removed, according to one of the prospective buyers back in 2009.

It had been the subject of  clean up actions by the federal Environmental Protection Agency, in the late 2000s, and the city had recently applied for funding to assess further hazards.

City Manager Steve Buck on  Friday night said  that officials  knew there were underground storage tanks to the rear of the property. The city’s  most recent application for federal funding was denied.

According to a 2008  EPA report, the mill was cited in 2007 for improper storage of hazardous substances, among other hazards.

The EPA in September 2008 was preparing a removal action, which it said was to include “the consolidation and segregation of all hazardous materials in and around the old mill building; decontamination and preparation of the disposal of all hazardous waste, barrels, and wall surfaces (and) excavation and disposal of contaminated soil and materials to an EPA-approved facility.”

There have been a number of smaller fires at the mill over the years, but none comparing to the magnitude of Friday night’s blaze.

— Video courtesy Terrence McCarthy.

— Senior Staff Writer Tammy Wells can be contacted at 324-4444 (local call in Sanford) or 282-1535, ext. 327 or [email protected]

 

 

 

 

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