MECHANIC FALLS — A large, old mill building on Lewiston Street was destroyed Sunday by a huge fire that sent up a cloud of thick, black smoke that could be seen for miles.

The building served several businesses, including as a warehouse for Maine Cycle, and was filled with motorcycles and parts. Corcoran Environmental Services, which recycles plastics, also operated in the former mill.

There were no reports of injuries and it was not clear if anyone was inside the building when the fire broke out. As of Sunday night, authorities had not said what might have caused the blaze.

The building was the site of a former paper mill and portions of it had been converted into apartments, according to News Center Maine (WCSH/WLBZ).

The fire was reported just after 1 p.m., and the building was engulfed in flames by the time firefighters arrived about 1:30 p.m.

Just before 2:30 p.m., a section of the building collapsed as more than 50 people watched from a nearby bridge.

“It was a very large fire that was extremely high, with tons of black smoke,” said Lindsey Campbell, who lives in the area. “There were mini-explosions – nothing like I’ve ever seen in person before.”

Other witnesses reported flames that rose at least 80 feet into the sky.

David Hodgkin of Poland Spring was among the first on the scene. He said when he arrived, flames were shooting out from the eaves of the building.

“It was fully engulfed within minutes,” he said.

Police helped at least one man out of his apartment, which was located in a separate building near the mill.

Firefighters from more than 15 departments – including Oxford, Norway, Paris, Casco, Poland, New Gloucester and Auburn – responded to the blaze. Several firetrucks directed water onto the building.

Just before 3:30 p.m., a fire crew from Bowdoinham arrived to help crews manage the smoke and flames.

Several people reported seeing smoke from as far away as the Oxford Plains Speedway. Others said they could see the smoke from Gray and Harpswell.

By 2:30 p.m., more fire crews from at least a dozen communities had been called to assist in battling the blaze or to fill in at area fire stations. Tankers were sent from several towns, including Bowdoin, Bath and Lisbon.

Witnesses said it appeared the fire started at the Maine Cycle warehouse. According to the company website, the warehouse moved to the Lewiston Street location in 2015 from its former warehouse in Auburn.

The company, which buys, sells and trades motorcycles, all-terrain vehicles and parts for these machines, specializes in models from the 1970s and 1980s.

An hour after the fire was first reported, there was not much left of the mill as the flames were still roaring.

Allisa Greenwood watched the fire from the sidewalk.

“I remember this building from when I was this high,” she said, gesturing a few feet from the ground. “My uncle used to come home from working in the mill and he’d smell.”

Zakk Maher, town manager in Mechanic Falls, said the building was not on any historic registries. News Center Maine said the building is the site of the former Marcal Paper Mill.

“That mill built this town,” Hodgkin said. “It’s a shame to see it go.”

Maher said the building is owned by Charles Starbird. According to buzzfile.com, a company information database, Starbird owns Magnum Enterprises, a construction company, and Magnum Homes, which builds houses. Both businesses are based in Mechanic Falls.

Maher said the proximity of the Little Androscoggin River beside the old mill building gave “us a little breathing room” as crews worked about 3 p.m. to confine the fire.

Maher said he expected the cleanup would take days, but right now “the main goal is getting the firefighters through the process without anyone getting hurt.”

More than two hours after the fire was first reported, thick smoke was still rising high enough to be seen for miles.

The American Legion post on nearby Elm Street opened up to serve food and water to firefighters and other emergency workers. Maher said the Red Cross was mobilized to help those displaced by the fire.

Jon Bolduc, Judith Meyer, Mark LaFlamme and Mark Mogensen of the Sun Journal contributed to this report.

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