June 7, 1886: An elevator catches fire in the Bodwell & Allen icehouses in the riverside part of Pittston that would become the town of Randolph the following year.

The fire jumps across the Kennebec River and ignites a Knickerbocker Ice Co. icehouse at Bowman’s Point in Farmingdale, then spreads to a neighboring Knickerbocker icehouse. It re-crosses the river and sets icehouses in Chelsea alight.

Firefighters are unable to save any of the industrial buildings. A large amount of tools and equipment is ruined as well. Damage is estimated at $300,000 – about $8.6 million in 2019.

“The ice houses being empty and perfectly dry burned like pitch,” the Daily Kennebec Journal reports the next day.

As a result, firefighters focus their efforts successfully on protecting vulnerable nearby buildings that the flames haven’t touched yet.

Knickerbocker says it will rebuild; Bodwell & Allen says it probably will as well. Within a few decades, however, the introduction of ice manufactured in factories and the evolution of refrigeration technology render the ice harvesting industry obsolete. (KJ June 8, 1886)

June 7, 1909: Fire aggravated by high wind wipes out the entire northeastern section of Presque Isle. Several people are injured and nearly 1,000 are homeless.

The loss includes about 100 houses, a Congregational church, a Masonic hall, a Canadian Pacific Railroad freight station, 10 potato storehouses and several other buildings.

The houses are not close together, but wind-driven embers landing on dry, shingled roofs are enough to ignite many buildings almost simultaneously.

Volunteer firefighters from Fort Fairfield and Houlton arrive to help local firemen contain the damage, which is a nearly impossible task, given the wind.

The fire breaks out in the kitchen of John Brown’s boardinghouse on North Main Street. When the fire burns out at midnight, it has destroyed part of the electrical grid, leaving the town in darkness.

The initial damage estimate is $300,000 – about $8.6 million in 2019 dollars.

Meanwhile, about 10 miles to the north, Caribou firefighters are preoccupied with a fire of their own. The foundry and machine shops of J.S. Getchell & Son, as well as manufactured goods awaiting shipment in a storehouse, burn about the same time the Presque Isle conflagration is underway. That fire causes about $30,000 in damage, or about $860,000 in today’s property value.

Three days later, Presque Isle endures a risk of further destruction, this time from fires in the woods outside the town. Barely rested from its earlier exertions, the town’s fire squad patrols the parts of town still standing, dousing flaming embers wherever they appear until the wind finally changes direction.

Presented by:

Joseph Owen is an author, retired newspaper editor and board member of the Kennebec Historical Society. Owen’s book, “This Day in Maine,” can be ordered at islandportpress.com.  Joe can be contacted at: [email protected]

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