MECHANIC FALLS — The owner of the former Marcal Paper Mill said Tuesday he does not have insurance on the building that was destroyed by a fire Sunday. He also said he is dying of cancer.

Charles Starbird bought the old mill about 10 years ago and had insured the property when there was a mortgage on it, but after the mortgage was paid he dropped the insurance to save money.

“People in town, I’m sure they think ‘Chuck and (his wife) Colleen just made 20 million bucks,’ ” Starbird said. “I wish that story to be true, but there was zero insurance on that complex.”

Starbird said the 380,000-square-foot building was last appraised at $8 million.

Starbird said he has stage 4 lung and bone cancer and is not expected to live long. Rents from mill tenants were supposed to support his wife when he no longer could.

“We struggled to get it paid for, but we did get it paid for,” he said. “That was to be my wife’s income for the rest of her life.”

Starbird said he is not sure what he will do now, although he would like to rebuild at the site.

The mill fire was reported just after 1 p.m. Sunday, drawing more than 100 firefighters from 19 departments. The fire created a cloud of thick, black smoke that could be seen for miles, and witnesses reported flames as high as 80 feet.

Within two hours, fire crews had drained the Mechanic Falls reservoir, according to the town’s Facebook page. After that, it said, more than 30 tankers “began running laps” between a pumping station on Route 11 and Lewiston Street. The building was reduced to rubble, but there were no reports of injuries.

Investigators from the Office of State Fire Marshal and agents with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives completed their work at the site Tuesday, but the cause of the fire remained unknown.

Investigators believe the blaze started in a first-floor storage area at the south end of the mill, according to a statement from the fire marshal’s office released Tuesday by Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.

Investigators are analyzing photographs and reviewing interviews to determine how the fire started, but officials said the building’s extensive damage will make it difficult to say conclusively what caused the blaze.

The 1850s-era mill building was home to a handful of businesses, two occupied apartments, Starbird’s workshop and a winter storage facility for boats and vehicles.

Town Manager Zakk Maher said Tuesday afternoon that crews were still pulling out burning bales of paper from Corcoran Environmental Services, a recycler that rented space in the building.

At least three businesses that rented space lost property, including Corcoran; Maine Cycle of Auburn, which used the space as a warehouse for motorcycles and parts; and Northe Woodworking, a cabinet manufacturer.

Patrick Letourneau, co-owner of Northe Woodworking, said he and his business partner lost almost all of their tools and four projects they were working on for clients.

“We have to work with the customers for those ones to kind of figure out when we’re going to be able to get them back to them or rebuild them,” Letourneau said.

He estimated Northe Woodworking’s loss at $50,000.

The business has insurance, Letourneau said, but it covers only tools. The insurance will not pay for the projects lost or the structure that Northe had built inside the mill to make its 2,000 square feet of open space usable.

A GoFundMe page was set up for the business Sunday. The fundraising page, which seeks $50,000, had raised about $5,800 by Tuesday afternoon.

The men have a handful of tools that had been with them at a job site. They will now finish what jobs they can at other locations and look for a new space for the business.

“We’re going to try to get it back to where it was,” he said. “We don’t really know what’s going to happen.”

Maher, the town manager, said life safety codes did not require a sprinkler system inside the building, although he said code enforcement documents show a system had been installed in part of the facility. Maher said the sprinkler system had been decommissioned at the owner’s request.

Starbird confirmed the sprinkler system was shut off and pulled apart by Marcal Paper after the company closed the mill. He said it would have been too expensive to reinstall it.

Pine Tree Waste, which is owned by Casella Waste Systems, rented space in a separate building at the complex, and it was not damaged by the fire, Starbird said.

[email protected]

filed under:

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.