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Harrison church makes progress after fire
GUTTED — Following a fire in September that caused smoke and soot damage throughout the entire United Parish Congregational Church in Harrison, the walls of the cellar were completely gutted. The upstairs has since been cleaned and repainted. Shown here, Pastor Franklin Anderson, center, discusses additional repairs that need to be made with Administrative Assistant Joanne Sullivan and church-goer Bev Martin.
HARRISON — Leaders of the United Parish Congregational Church at 77 Main Street say ample progress has been made to clean up the church after a fire broke out in its downstairs kitchen in September.
The fact the church sustained minimal damage is a "blessing in disguise," said Pastor Franklin Anderson. The fire did not cause any structural damage, but sent smoke and soot throughout the entire building, he said.
"It was everywhere. It was just incredible," he said. "Everything was black."
"We were supposed to have a breakfast here, Saturday, September 1," the morning after the fire occurred, said Anderson. He says the fire was discovered by a woman opening the door around 6 a.m. for the breakfast.
According to Anderson, she immediately shut the door and called 911.
"A dehumidifier that was in the kitchen had caught fire," he explained Monday.
According to reports in September, the cause of the fire had not yet been determined, but was presumed by Town Manager Bud Finch to have been electrical in nature.
"Fortunately," said Anderson, "it [the dehumidifier] was right next to the dishwasher and flames had burned through a hose connected to it; the water sprayed from the hose back onto the fire and kept it from spreading."
He said the fire had just started to spread into the building's framework when firefighters were able to successfully put it out.
Could've been worse
The church was built in the 1870s and luckily was insured, Anderson said. He estimated the damage cost "somewhere in the vicinity of $200,000."
If the fire had traveled into the walls, "there would have been no stopping it. It's all dry wood," Anderson warned.
"We were very fortunate it [the fire] was stopped when it did." He said members of the fire department who are also members of the church told him that if the fire burned for an additional 10 minutes, "there would've been nothing we could do."
Since the fire "every inch" of the church including every hymnal has been wiped down and the rooms in the basement, including the kitchen, a Sunday school room and the meeting hall have been gutted, Anderson said.
Luckily, no valuables were lost in the blaze, he added.
Helping those in need
Since the fire, church services have been held at the Harrison Fire Station on School Street and attendance is as good as it always has been, said Anderson.
According to Anderson, the fire has turned out to be somewhat of a blessing, as it has reminded folks that "the church is 'the people, not the building.'"
The smaller space at the fire station has also brought worshipers closer together by "sitting in chairs that are closer, versus sitting upstairs in the pews."
On top of repairing the church, leaders have been trying to raise money to help people in need during the holidays by organizing community breakfasts that have been well-attended, said Anderson and Administrative Assistant Joanne Sullivan.
According to Anderson, a breakfast held at the Olde Mill Tavern and Restaurant last Saturday raised more than $1,000 to put toward Christmas baskets and fuel assistance. The event was part of Christmas in Harrison.
"It was double what it normally is," he said of the fundraiser.
As far as progress on the building, said Sullivan, the entire upstairs so far has been cleaned and the walls painted. The old carpet was ripped up and will be replaced, she said.
New and improved insulation will be installed in the entire downstairs. Anderson expects the new insulation to lower the church's fuel bill. "It has allowed us to make some improvements" and do some "de-cluttering," he noted.
Though not always the case, Anderson pointed out that something good tends to come from something bad as long as there's a little faith.
"We joke that when this is all done, we will have the cleanest church in Maine," he said.
Church services are expected to resume in the sanctuary some time "well after the first of the year," Sullivan said.
SANCTUARY — The upstairs sanctuary of the United Parish Congregational Church of Harrison and North Bridgton is vacant, following a fire in the downstairs kitchen in September that caused soot damage throughout the building. Sunday services are being held at the Harrison Fire Station on School Street.