2017-04-07 / Community

A Window on the Past

Unusual fires in South Portland’s history
By Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo
South Portland Historical Society

In a city as large as South Portland, with roughly 10,000 homes and a sizeable number of business and industries, our fire department has been kept busy over the years. Some fires have been historic due to the size and nature of the fire, as in the shipyard fire of 1965, which wasn’t actually a shipyard that caught fire, but rather the enormous 750-foot long South Portland Engineering fabrication building on Madison Street (formerly used by New England Shipbuilding). When that building went up, the whole city was on edge. Not only was the fire itself a threat to the surrounding area, but residents were concerned because the engineering company had been working on components for a nuclear submarine inside. The building was consumed by fire, with gas explosions rocking the area, and was completely destroyed and in ruins in just about one hour.

While not on a historic scale with that fire, there are two other interesting and unusual fires that took place in South Portland that were worthy of mention in “Ripley’s Believe It or Not.”

One fire relates to the Engine 1 firehouse fire in Ferry Village in April 1946, seen here in the top photo. I’m sure it came as a surprise to the volunteer firefighters in the neighborhood when they were called to respond to a fire at their own firehouse. The building on School Street suffered a good amount of damage before it was put out.

Another ironic fire in South Portland was when the standpipe on Meeting House Hill caught fire in 1938. The standpipe was a large water storage tank, erected in 1892 by the water district. While it could hold up to 650,000 gallons of water, the standpipe was made of wood, so the tank was still susceptible to fire. We have no photos that show firefighters actually putting the fire out. If anyone has a photo of that to share, please give South Portland Historical Society a call at 767-7299.

Kathryn Onos DiPhilippo is executive director of South Portland Historical Society.

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