Some of the letters and magazines arriving in Winthrop this week have been charred and crispy. Others have been smoked or a tad waterlogged.
But the fact that there has been any mail at all has surprised some residents, who were expecting the worst after a fire destroyed town’s post office last week.
“We didn’t get mail for one day, and the following mail day, they were back at it,” said Jim Betts, a Winthrop retiree who has received two plastic bags filled with mail that survived the blaze.
Some of it was singed, and one item was still damp from the water that firefighters used to knock down the fire; but the mail was in fine condition overall, Betts said. One of the pieces was an updated credit card he wasn’t expecting and wouldn’t have thought to replace if it had been destroyed in the fire.
“I was really impressed they were able to put it together that quickly,” said Betts, who used to work for the Maine State Employees Association. “Hats off to both the postal workers and the Fire Department for the work they did.”
The U.S. Postal Service announced this week that it will tear down the burned-out remains of the Winthrop post office, but officials have not announced a timeline for that work or definitely stated whether the downtown facility will be replaced — which has caused some anxiety in town.
“Right now the focus is on the salvaged mail and no timetable for reopening the facility has been established,” Steve Doherty, a Postal Service spokesman, wrote in an email a few days after the fire. “But that will be the key focus going forward.”
For those Winthrop area residents and businesspeople who are still concerned about mail lost in the fire, the Postal Service has a series of recommendations. The first is to try to establish whether the mail was at the Winthrop post office during the fire, either by using online tracking codes or contacting the senders or recipients of the mail.
If the mail was not insured or didn’t have a tracking code, another way to search for it is a missing mail search via the “Help” section of the Postal Service website. To conduct one of those searches, the Postal Service asks for information such as the sending and receiving addresses, the size and type of envelope used for the mail, a description of its contents, and pictures.
Depending on the level of mailing service and whether the items were insured, the Postal Service allows customers to file claims and request reimbursements for lost mail. Claims also can be filed for damaged mail, and the Postal Service treats all requests on a case-by-case basis, Doherty said last week.
Betts isn’t alone in his rave review of the Postal Service’s work to recover mail from the Winthrop wreckage.
“It was a surprise to get anything salvaged,” said Sarah Fuller, chairwoman of the Town Council and a board member of the Winthrop Lakes Area Chamber of Commerce. “I think they’re doing a remarkable job of getting things semi-normal and getting that volume of mail delivered to people.”
The Postal Service has continued sending mail to Winthrop addresses out of the Augusta post office, while residents and businesses with post office boxes in Winthrop now receive their mail at the Manchester post office.
Like Betts, Fuller gets mail delivered at her Winthrop home, and she recently received some blackened magazines and marketing materials.
“They were charred, and some of the paper was flaking off, but it was more or less intact,” she said.
Fuller also has heard from other Winthrop residents with lightly affected mail, including one woman who had ordered a New England Patriots jersey featuring the name and number of Tom Brady. It arrived with ash on it, which she was able to clean off in the laundry.
“It was another Super Bowl miracle,” Fuller said.
But another letter recently arrived in the mailboxes of Winthrop residents that has given some of them pause, Fuller said. That letter, from a Postal Service supervisor, left open the question of whether another post office will be built in downtown Winthrop and mentioned a community meeting that will be held in the future. The post office was just 7 years old.
“I realize with change there is always concern,” the supervisor, Wendy Blouin, wrote. “No final decision to permanently discontinue the Post Office has been made. A community meeting will be held at or near the Winthrop Post Office in the coming weeks to explain our plans and solicit your comments concerning possible alternate means of providing postal and other services.”
Earlier this week, Doherty said the burned-out facility will be demolished and suggested that the Postal Service is considering replacing it, but he did not announce a timeline for any work to happen on the brick building.
“They’re going to need to demolish what’s left of the building,” Doherty said. “The plan right now is just to rebuild on the same location. That’s what (the Postal Service is) moving towards.”
A federal investigator also announced this week that the post office fire was ruled an accident, but inspectors have not been able to determine its exact cause. It started in the attic and may have been mechanical or electrical in origin.
Given the uncertain future of the downtown post office, both Fuller and Betts said its absence has been felt acutely.
“It struck as soon as fire hit,” Betts said. “We felt a loss because it’s a part of community, but it’s really important for small towns like Winthrop to have a post office.”
Charles Eichacker — 621-5642