The owners of a popular Freeport restaurant pledged to rebuild Wednesday even as workers cleaned charred debris left by an early morning fire that destroyed the long-time family business.

Flames ignited by a second-floor bathroom fan that was left on overnight ripped through the second and third floors of the Corsican Cafe and Chowder House early Wednesday, Freeport Fire Chief Darrel Fournier said.

The 146-year-old building at 9 Mechanic St., a short distance from Main Street and L.L. Bean’s flagship store, was a total loss.

Corsican co-owner Robin Wade swept blackened debris from around the building Wednesday afternoon as she watched workers from a restoration company board up the front door. Seeing a business she had owned for 30 years go up in flames was shocking, Wade said, but she was trying to stay upbeat.

“It was only a building, we have insurance, no one got hurt,” she said.

The second floor of the building was destroyed in the blaze and the first level was badly damaged by smoke and water, but firefighters managed to salvage some of the decorations and furniture, and the kitchen equipment is salvageable, she said. The remains of the building will likely be demolished, and Wade said she and her husband and co-owner, Ed Berg, intend to build a new restaurant in the same location.

“As long as we have the means, we will rebuild,” she said.

Wade said Freeport business owners, neighbors and friends had been offering comfort and support.

“All the other restaurant owners have come by to give me a hug,” Wade said. “Everybody’s called or come by.”

The fire also left the restaurant’s 10 employees looking for work. Maine’s Department of Labor has scheduled a Rapid Response session for Friday to help them sign up for unemployment benefits and other services.

Adam Rowe, 27, has worked at the Corsican as a line cook off and on for almost 10 years. It was one of the best jobs he had, and the owners allowed him to work around his school schedule, Rowe said.

“I’m bummed out,” he said, looking up at the blacked building. “I don’t know what is going to happen next.”

Kelsey Fenwick, 27, worked as server at the restaurant and said many customers came back every year when they visited Maine.

She worked at the Corsican for two years, but remembered coming there to eat as a child. The small, tight-knit staff is very close to the owners, she added.

“I think all of us were like family, anyway,” she said.

Wade said she closed the restaurant early Tuesday afternoon so her employees wouldn’t have to drive on snowy roads.

The restaurant opened for its 30th season a few weeks ago and Wade was looking forward to a busy summer. In the past few years she had invested in new carpet, silverware and furniture, and last year put up a new sign outside.

Around 4 a.m., she got a call from the fire department telling her the restaurant was on fire.

“It was like a nightmare come true,” she said.

Wade and Berg were getting ready to hand the reigns of the restaurant over to Nate Briggs, their son and the head chef. The restaurant was like a second home for him, she added.

“We were going to be here less and less, but now we’ll have to be here more and more,” she said.

Fournier, the fire chief, said his department was alerted to the fire at 3:02 a.m. by an alarm activation from within the restaurant. Bathrooms fans can be a fire hazard if they are left running and heat up enough to ignite lint or other materials.

When the first fire crews arrived on the scene at 3:06 a.m. flames already were showing from the 1870s-era building. Fournier said the balloon framing used when the building was constructed has voids inside the walls that act as conduits and allow fire to spread quickly.

“They had heavy fire showing from the second-floor rear of the building,” he said. “The crews advanced a line into the second floor, but the fire conditions quickly escalated, which forced them out of the building.”

The department struck a second alarm to call in aid from surrounding towns. Crews evacuated residents of a building 10 feet behind the Corsican building as a precaution, but the second building was not damaged, Fournier said.

Nobody was inside the Corsican Cafe building when the fire started, Fournier said. He estimated the loss of the building at $400,000.

Freeport’s fire department was assisted on scene by Brunswick, Topsham, Pownal and Yarmouth fire departments. The Falmouth and Cumberland fire departments provided station coverage.

Kelly Edwards, executive director of the Freeport USA marketing association, said the restaurant was a big part of the community and she hopes to help support the business and its employees as they deal with the loss.

“We will be part of a community effort to rally around them and get them back on their feet,” Edwards said.

Within hours of the fire, fans of the restaurant began posting messages of support on the restaurant’s Facebook page.

“Prayers for the well-being of everyone connected with your establishment,” wrote Michael Wallace. “It is a great presence in downtown Freeport.”

Stephanie Petkers, executive director of the Greater Freeport Chamber of Commerce, said the Corsican has been an “integral part of the community for so many years” because the owners are supporters of local nonprofit groups.

“We know Ed and Robin are devastated at this loss after they put so much work into renovations and know that they will come back even stronger with the support of the entire community behind them,” Petkers said.

The chamber has established the Corsican Fire Relief Fund at Bath Savings Institution to support the restaurant’s owners as they deal with the loss of their business. Donations can be made in person at any Bath Savings Institution branch or by mailing a check made out to the Corsican Fire Relief Fund to Bath Savings Bank, P.O. Box 160, Freeport, ME 04032.

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 861-9239 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: grahamgillian