January 23

The Forks rafting lodge destroyed in fire

Firefighting efforts were hampered by lack of water when tanker ran out and frozen Kennebec River couldn’t provide a refill.

By Rachel Ohm rohm@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

Firefighters struggled to extinguish a blaze at a two-story lodge at The Forks Wednesday night after they ran out of water and were forced to call for mutual aid from two towns more than 20 miles away.

click image to enlarge

GONE: Smoke rises from the rubble of the former Professional River Runners base camp in The Forks on Thursday, Jan. 23, 2014. Firefighters responded Wednesday night and found the building engulfed in flames. Acting fire chief Charles Napolitano said the fire is not suspicious and he could not determine a cause. The building is owned by Ed Beauchamp of West Forks.

Staff photo by David Leaming

The lodge, on U.S. Route 201, was part of the now defunct Professional River Runners Company and was destroyed in the fire, said Charles Napolitano, acting fire chief for the West Forks Fire Department.

Napolitano was the first to arrive at the scene shortly after the fire was reported about 7:30 p.m. by a driver on U.S. 201. Flames were coming out one side of the building and spreading to the roof, he said.

Firefighters from the West Forks Fire Department brought a 3,000 gallon tanker, but ran out of water while fighting the flames in the engulfed building. Ice and treacherous conditions near the Kennebec River, about 100 feet from the lodge, prevented them from refilling the tank with river water and they were forced to call for mutual aid from Anson and Bingham. It took about half an hour for responders from both towns, more than 20 miles away, to arrive.

The building belongs to Edward Beauchamp, who said his family lost a lot of memories with the 100-year-old lodge, originally a farmhouse where he lived with his wife for the first five years of their marriage. Most recently it was a base for their rafting company, Professional River Runners, which closed last year and was for sale, said Beauchamp.

“Tens of thousands of people have been through there, most of whom have had a fantastic time. It’s a little emotional, but other than that I’m happy no one was there and no one was hurt,” said Beauchamp, a resident of West Forks who also owns Grand View Lodging in the Forks. “It meant a lot to a lot of people and I’ve had a lot of phone calls and emails from people remembering it.”

The property served as a launching point for the rafting company and other companies on the Kennebec River, said Beauchamp. It is also across the street from the Town Office.

By mid-afternoon Thursday the fire was still smoldering and firefighters were returning to the scene to check on the building, which burned to the ground, said Napolitano.

There were no injuries and no one was in the building at the time, said Napolitano. The cause of the fire is unknown but it does not appear to be suspicious, he said.

The Office of the State Fire Marshal was contacted and may be doing an investigation, he said. At the time the fire was reported, temperatures inside the building were too hot for firefighters to enter, said Napolitano. He said Central Maine Power was also at the scene and disconnected electricity to the building at around 8:40 p.m. Wednesday.

The Forks has a year-round population of about 36 and shares a fire department with nearby West Forks.

Rachel Ohm— 612-2368 rohm@centralmaine.com
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