There’s no grocery store in Caratunk. No fire department or even any fire hydrants. And after a fast moving blaze on Sunday, there are two fewer houses on Main Street.

But the town still has a post office.

Burned, water-damaged, but still standing, the Caratunk post office stood Monday morning as snow fell on the empty building and the ashes of two neighboring homes and a garage that were destroyed by a fire reported just before 7 a.m. Sunday.

The blaze quickly spread among the buildings before enough volunteer firefighters from neighboring towns arrived to control it.

Main Street resident Mandy Farrar said she felt helpless Sunday morning as she and other neighbors watched the fire spread during the half-hour wait for help.

The northern Somerset County town, with a population of 69 in the 2010 census, is 16 miles north of Bingham.

“This could have been me. This could have been any of us because of where we live,” Farrar said Monday. “But I think it’s kind of why we band together.”

On Monday morning, Farrar said neighbors had reached out to each other with hunting outfitters offering vacant lodges to the homeowners, Rick and Tina Belanger, who were left homeless by the fire.

The former postmaster, Marie Beane, said she lent her phone to residents who were unable to get cellphone reception and had temporarily lost use of home phones because of fire damage to a utility pole.

“We’re a very small town,” said Farrar. “We all basically come together to try to help those who lost everything.”

Sgt. Ken Grimes, of the State Fire Marshal’s Office, said the cause of the fire was undetermined, since any evidence that could be used to find what ignited the flames was destroyed.

The day after the fire, the remains of the structures were still smoking. Several tons of wood pellets that had been stored in the Belanger house continued to smolder. In the destroyed garage sat the remains of a snowplow and a motorcycle.

The post office, neighbors agreed, is the center of the town that boasts about 40 year-round residents.

The small town lies along the Appalachian Trail, and the post office collects general delivery mail with the names of hikers who pick up their packages as they pass through.

For the time being, Beane said, Caratunk’s mail is going to Bingham, but she wasn’t sure what the long term plan would be.

Beane and her husband, Dan Beane, own the building that houses the post office and live across the street.

The building includes two apartments and a storage area that formerly was a general store. The post office and at least one of the apartments had sustained damage from the fire, but the Beanes believe the damage could be repaired.

The fire started in the Belangers’ recently renovated house and spread to the seasonal home and garage, according to Walter Glymn of the West Forks Fire Department, who was at the fire scene Monday. Firefighters from Solon, West Forks, Jackman and Bingham worked together to fight the fire.

“It’s a horrifying big loss to the town,” said Glymn.

Beane and other firefighters said a passerby on U.S. Route 201 saw the smoke, drove downtown to the fire and started honking his horn to alert people in the camp to come out.

Farrar said she was getting ready to take her dog for a walk, and she saw the driver honking outside the fire. She and others called 911 and waited for the fire departments to arrive.

“We’re very remote so it takes a little time,” she said. “That’s as fast as they can do in that situation.”

Marie Beane, who was among several residents to call for help, said she heard the car horn and felt the intense heat from the blaze.

“The flames were very high and coming from the back,” said Beane.

She said they went to the rear of the post office and tried to use a garden hose to help save the structure, but it was frozen.

She and her husband were able to move a boat and two snowmobiles on trailers a distance away from the post office.

The town has no hydrant system, so firefighters had to relay water from the Kennebec River and a nearby stream. Farrar said she saw one tanker drafting water from a stream near her house.

“They did a great job. They went above and beyond the call of duty,” she said.

Kaitlin Schroeder — 861-9252

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