WATERVILLE — A malfunctioning fluorescent light at The Center building caused part of Main Street to be closed to traffic for about two hours Monday morning.

A bad light ballast in a display shelf on the second floor in the store Maine Made & More at 93 Main St. caused the problem, which firefighters initially thought could have been an electrical or structural fire.

“I went upstairs to the office and could smell smoke even though I couldn’t see anything,” said Susan Begin, 59, the store’s bookkeeper. She reported the odor of smoke to the Waterville Fire Department around 9 a.m.

Older fluorescent light bulbs can break down and give off an odor of smoke, said Rodney Alderman, a Waterville Fire Department shift captain, on Monday. If left in place with the power on, they can lead to electrical fire.

“The chemicals inside heat up and escape. They are actually carcinogens and can be dangerous if they leak,” he said. “There is also the potential they can cause fire.”

Alderman said that initially a single truck was sent to the scene Monday morning to investigate.
“It smelled more like a building fire than just an electrical fire, so that’s when we sent out two more trucks,” he said.

Firefighters traced the smell to the light ballast, removed it, ventilated the building and ruled out the potential any fire might start.

The building, which also contains a number of offices and businesses including WABI-TV news and the city’s human resources and code enforcement offices, was evacuated. Traffic was closed from Temple Street through the end of lower Main Street.

“It’s a very full building and probably at least 100 years old,” said Becky Turly, 58, a store employee at Maine Made, who was also working Monday morning.

“You don’t want to mess around with Main Street because the buildings are so old and close together,” said Waterville Fire Chief David LaFountain.

He said that in older buildings, it is not uncommon for florescent lights to break down and leak fluid, a potential cause of electrical fire.

“It is such a large building we want to have as many eyes and noses as possible,” he said.

Firefighters from Waterville and Winslow responded, as well as the Waterville Police Department.
The scene was cleared and traffic was open again by 11 a.m.

Rachel Ohm —  612-2368
[email protected]