LEWISTON — Fire crews were spread thin responding to different sections of the city at almost the same time Tuesday morning – one involving a commercial building with elevated carbon monoxide levels and another involving a fire in a downtown apartment building, prompting fire commanders to strike a second alarm at the fire.

About 100 workers and about 20 people from two bowling leagues – the Morning Glories and Young at Heart – had to evacuate the large commercial building at 18 Mollison Way in the northern section of the city about 9 a.m. Tuesday because of high carbon monoxide levels in the building. Snow clogged the exhaust vents on a rooftop heating and ventilation unit, said Fire Capt. Wallace Veilleux.

Emergency rooms and rescue workers are seeing a surge in patients affected by carbon monoxide poisoning in the past week that appears to be linked to deep snow covering home exhaust vents, clogging vehicle exhaust pipes and prompting people to run generators in enclosed spaces, according to the Northern New England Poison Control Center. In the past week, the center has recorded 30 cases of carbon monoxide poisoning in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont. The center typically sees eight such cases a week during January and February.

The people at the commercial building – which houses Sparetime Bowling, Carbonite database services and Merrimack River Medical Services – were forced outside into temperatures hovering in the single digits.

Firefighters conducting a sweep of the building found carbon monoxide levels at 200 parts per million, compared to the 35 parts per million that activates a residential carbon monoxide alarm, Veilleux said. Even though the building’s alarms went off, firefighters encountered several people still inside who were oblivious to the danger, he said.

Nobody was injured in the incident. Some complained of nausea, a common symptom of carbon monoxide poisoning, though they declined medical attention. Firefighters and health officials urged residents and businesses to make sure the past week’s heavy snow has not blocked exhaust vents.

People were allowed to return to the building by 11:30 a.m.

Shortly after firefighters arrived, they were alerted to a fire on the second floor of a building at 194 Pine St. in the heart of the city’s downtown residential district. The building contains six units, though only three were occupied.

“We had heavy smoke pouring from the second and third floor and flames in those windows,” said Lewiston Fire Investigator Paul Ouellette, gesturing toward a second-floor window.

Investigators concluded the fire was caused by a malfunction in a freezer compressor.

The snow made it hard for firefighters to gain access to the building and blocked storm drains at the corner of Bradley and Pine streets.

Water from firetrucks accumulated in the street, forcing firefighters to wade through calf-high water as they fought the blaze, said Veilleux.

Public works crews were summoned to dig out snowbanks covering the drains.

A tenant in the second-floor apartment where the fire started tried unsuccessfully to put it out with an extinguisher, Ouellette said. The man suffered smoke inhalation, as did a firefighter who ran out of air while breathing through his self-contained breathing apparatus. The firefighter leaned out a front-facing window to get fresh air and was able to climb onto an aerial ladder before returning to work, Veilleux said.

Neither injury was serious, Ouellette said, and the fire was brought under control within an hour.

Two cats and a dog survived the blaze, including one cat that firefighters administered oxygen to.

The Red Cross dispatched a disaster recovery team to help four people who were displaced affected by the fire.

John Lamb, spokesman for the organization, said it will provide help with food, shelter, clothing and emotional support as needed.

David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @Mainehenchman

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