Channing Laflamme of Jim Godbout Plumbing and Heating Inc. grabs tools from a van while repairing heating pipes in an apartment building on Pike Street in Biddeford on Monday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

In just the first hour of his workday on Monday, Bill Sterling of 207 Plumbing and Heating in Standish fielded 14 calls from people with burst pipes or other problems caused by the extreme cold over the weekend.

On Saturday and Sunday, Sterling’s team of three plumbers handled as many as 40 calls a day from homeowners desperate for someone to fix their pipes or get the heat back on after appliances failed.

“The weekend was extremely busy. Extremely, extremely busy,” he said. “It’s something you don’t typically see in the plumbing and heating industry every year.”

Temperatures across Maine plummeted to double digits below zero Friday night and Saturday morning. Strong wind gusts caused some of the most extreme cold the state has seen in decades, with the overnight temperature in Portland dipping to 14 degrees below zero with a wind chill of 45 degrees below.

Plumbers, firefighters, emergency responders and aid groups worked around the clock to keep Mainers safe, warm and dry.

With temperatures that low, it wasn’t surprising to local plumbers that they were inundated with calls. In larger buildings, the cold weather froze pipes and set off sprinkler systems, causing water damage that temporarily closed several businesses and schools.


“We take it in stride, one at a time,” said Jim Godbout of Jim Godbout Plumbing and Heating in Biddeford.

Godbout had 30 people working on Saturday and Sunday to handle heating and plumbing repairs and fuel deliveries. His office staff of seven came in to field calls and try to calm panicking homeowners, he said.

A worker from Godbout Plumbing and Heating Inc. repairs heating pipes in an apartment building on Monday. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

Some people are prepared going into extremely cold weather, but even then “there are so many things that can take place with winds of that nature,” Godbout said. Many of the heating issues the company responded to were the result of deferred maintenance on heating appliances because of the pandemic and labor shortages, he said.

“Luckily we only had 36 hours of cold weather here,” Godbout said. “I’ve seen worse with longer stretches of cold. I recall years where you’d have four or five days of sub-zero weather in a row that creates a lot of issues.”


The weather created a headache for school leaders after a sprinkler system broke and flooded parts of Boothbay Region Elementary School. It was discovered Sunday morning when the fire department and administrators responded to an alarm inside the building.


After the leak above the second-floor ceiling was found and the water shut off, more problems were found in the kitchen area, Superintendent Robert Kahler said. There is minor damage to floors and major damage to some rooms, equipment and instructional materials.

While the district assesses the damage and makes repairs, the 350 students in pre-K to eighth grade will have this week off. Next week, the younger students may attend classes in the high school building while middle schoolers temporarily switch to remote instruction, Kahler said.

Pre-K classes were canceled in Litchfield on Monday and Oak Hill High School students in Wales were moved to remote learning in Regional School Unit 4 due to water damage. A chemistry classroom sustained significant damage after a pipe in the ceiling burst, Superintendent Katy Grondin said.

A Servpro worker carries debris Monday out of the DHHS office in Lewiston. Frozen pipes burst in the weekend’s severe cold. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

At Bowdoin College, more than 200 students were evacuated from the 16-story Cole Tower dorms around 2 a.m. Sunday after a sprinkler pipe burst on the second floor, said Jeff Tuttle, assistant vice president of facilities.

Ten students living on the second floor were displaced and assigned to new rooms. He said depending on how long the flooded area takes to dry out and the availability of contractors and materials, it is unknown when students will return to their original room assignments.

In Lewiston, the Maine Department of Health and Human Services temporarily closed its Main Street office because of water and electrical damage caused by the weather.


“The office is undergoing repairs and will reopen to the public and employees as soon as possible to ensure continued access to critical benefits and services,” spokesperson Jackie Farwell said in a statement.


The cold kept local fire departments extremely busy as they responded to fire alarms and calls from homeowners who needed help turning off their water until a plumber was available for repairs.

In Sanford, the fire department responded to 21 calls for burst pipes and two building fires that were started accidentally by people using torches or heat guns to try to defrost frozen pipes. No one was injured.

Oak Hill High School science teacher, Ryan Crocker looks for salvageable equipment in his chemistry classroom Monday afternoon. Several areas throughout the school had significant water damage after pipes burst over the weekend. Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

“Any time it gets that cold, we plan on fires,” said interim Chief Rick Smith, adding that a hair dryer is a safer option to slowly thaw pipes.

The temperatures had begun to rise by the time the South Portland Fire Department’s call volume picked up on Saturday and Sunday. During those two days, the department responded to 33 water-related calls.


“The initial freeze isn’t when we see problems, it’s after they’re frozen completely and start to thaw,” said Robb Couture, public information officer for the department.

In Portland, the fire department responded to far more than its average of 50 calls a day. From Friday through Sunday, the department responded to 278 calls, 115 of which were for medical issues. Many of the remaining calls were weather-related, division chief Sean Donaghue said, largely related to broken pipes and alarms set off by sprinkler systems.

Inspectors from the city’s Permitting and Inspections Department worked for 34 straight hours over the weekend to respond to 79 calls at single-family homes, multifamily buildings, restaurants, retail shops, offices, nursing homes, hotels and grocery stores, city spokesperson Jessica Grondin said.

Inspectors helped move people to alternative housing, worked with alarm and sprinkler companies to get systems back online, and contacted property owners impacted by the weather. The health inspector was called in to assist food establishments, including three restaurants that had to close because of damage, Grondin said.

On Monday, the American Red Cross of Northern New England said that during the past week it had had its highest volume of fire responses so far this year, as it assisted 78 people displaced by 30 house fires in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.

In Maine, the emergency response team assisted a total of 36 people displaced by fires in Portland, Naples, Lincolnville, Garland, Strong, Lisbon Falls, Orland, North Anson and Veazie.

Sun Journal Staff Writer Vanessa Paolella contributed to this report.

Related Headlines

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.