Five people were injured – one critically – in a predawn fire Saturday that destroyed a townhouse apartment complex on Munjoy Hill in Portland, authorities said.

“It was a huge fire,” Deputy Fire Chief Kevin McGuire  said of the blaze at 117-119 North St. “Five civilians were transported to the hospital.”

The person in critical condition was taken to Maine Medical Center. “All five were outside the building when firefighters arrived,” said fire Capt. John Brennan.

The 911 call came in at 3:07 a.m. with a report of a garage fire that was spreading into the building, Brennan said.

The fire at 117 and 119 North St. was called in at 3:07 a.m. Saturday with information the fire started in the garage and spread to two townhouses, fire officials said.  Carl D. Walsh/Staff Photographer

When firefighters arrived from the nearby Munjoy Hill Station, they found heavy fire in the rear of the building. The commanding officer swiftly struck a second alarm, Brennan said. The fire was so intense that before long a third alarm was sounded, emptying all of Portland’s fire stations to send available firefighters to the scene. Mutual aid units from nearby cities came to staff Portland’s fire stations.

Firefighters evacuated several nearby buildings as a precaution, Brennan said.


He said they aggressively worked to contain the fire and at one point entered the building, but not for long, because they determined the roof was about to fall. “The roof did collapse, (but) the firefighters were out at that point,” Brennan said.

The building did not have sprinklers, but it was constructed with firewalls separating the townhouses, and that assisted firefighters, Brennan said. “Even though there was a heavy amount of fire, the firewalls contained the fire to the two units. The building is unfortunately a total loss, but the fire did not get into the other units.” WMTW-TV reported that the apartment complex had eight townhouse units.

The scene was cleared at 8:15 a.m. The cause of the fire is not known, and is under investigation.

The frigid weather hampered the initial investigation on Saturday, Brennan added. “Temperatures were in the teens, and everything at the scene is frozen.” Icicles were hanging from nearby power lines, trees and bushes. “Fortunately it hadn’t started snowing yet, but with the amount of water they were putting on, everything freezes,” he noted.

The weather also made it a tough fire to fight. “It was so windy, it spread fast,” said Susan Mann, who lives across the street from the fire. The fire seemed to start on the second floors, she said, adding that she was pleased to learn all of the residents in the building got out.

A video of the fire on the Portland Professional Fire Fighter’s Union Facebook page, taken by a neighbor, shows how dramatic the fire was, with flames shooting above the building’s roof.


The Red Cross was contacted to help those left homeless by the blaze, said Portland Police Department spokesman David Singer.

No firefighters at the scene were injured, and there were many.  More than 50 responded with a total of nine firetrucks and several more emergency vehicles, including multiple ambulances.

Brennan said fires often strike in the winter when residents are trying to get warm.

“People are trying ways to heat homes that are not always the safest,” for example by placing space heaters too close to something that can easily catch fire, or turning on the oven and leaving the oven door cracked open.

“Those are things that we see,” Brennan said. In addition to having smoke detectors with working batteries, it’s important to use a portable heater or any appliance as instructed, and residents should be sure the appliances are certified by Underwriters Laboratories, he said.

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