KITTERY, Maine — The remains of one person were found Thursday at the site of a five-alarm fire that destroyed Days Inn on Route 1 Bypass a day earlier, according to authorities.
Maine Fire Marshal Rich McCarthy and Kittery Fire Chief David O’Brien announced the news of the fatality. The person was found on the site around 2:15 p.m. The person’s identity was not immediately announced pending the state medical examiner’s determination. Federal investigators and York police investigated along with Kittery police, officials said.
“The investigation into the origin and cause of this fire is still under investigation, but at this time we believe all persons involved are accounted for,” McCarthy said.
All of the employees at the Days Inn were accounted for, O’Brien said.
The fire marshal said investigators said they did not know the gender of the deceased person.
O’Brien noted the fire attack on Wednesday was set up on the south side of the Days Inn, a 200-foot-long strip dubbed the “A side” of the building. The body was recovered about halfway down the A side of the building, he said.
“It was definitely in the area of the biggest burn in the building,” O’Brien said. “It was the area my firefighters were trying to make an attempt to get to the first three or four minutes of the fire.”
The owners of the building are not being investigated, the fire marshal said. He added that at the time of Thursday’s press conference at the Gorges Road fire station, the Days Inn’s owners had yet to be notified of the death.
Fire crews were working Thursday at the site of the 85 Route 1 Bypass structure, which burned to the ground in a blaze that was reported at mid-day Wednesday and not reported under control until just after 6 p.m.
Chief describes Days Inn blaze as ‘firefighter’s nightmare’
Fire crews attempted to access one room within the Days Inn after receiving a report someone might be trapped inside it. Despite making entry to the building, O’Brien said responders could not make it any closer than two or three rooms near that point, forcing them to retreat and O’Brien making the call for responders to take up a defensive mode.
When firefighters entered the building, they did so without any hand lines to put out the fire.
“The building is wood frame with furniture, lots of material that burned inside that building. It is a firefighter’s nightmare with individual rooms and hallways and everything else,” O’Brien stated. “Trust me when I say that I was extremely hesitant when I sent my firefighters into that building to go make that initial primary search, they went into that building with no protection.”
While there have been past code violations against the Days Inn, the fire chief noted they had been corrected in recent years. The hotel, however, has likely not been inspected in a few years, O’Brien said.
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Sprinkler system was not required in 1956 building
Mutual aid crews from local city and town fire departments within a 20-mile radius of Kittery, from both Maine and New Hampshire, responded to the hotel built in 1956. It did not have a sprinkler system.
According to Kittery Town Manager Kendra Amaral, the hotel was built before state building code required sprinkler systems, though all fire alarms in the Days Inn operated soundly at the time of the fire, she said.
“If this was to be reconstructed today, it would have to have sprinklers,” she continued.
Since 1994, the Days Inn property, which town officials noted was last assessed at $1,512,959, has been owned by Kittery Motor Inn Inc. State records list Rohit Patel as the owner.
A proposal to redevelop the property and construct a new hotel had been filed with the town on May 5, less than two weeks ago. The plans, submitted by Kamlesh Patel, called for a new four-story, 107-room hotel to replace the Days Inn, which would have been demolished.
A member of the Patel family declined to speak Wednesday as the Days Inn burned.
Though town officials gave consideration to the idea of demolishing the remainder of the Days Inn, Amaral said that won’t happen Thursday. An excavator was brought to the 85 Route 1 Bypass site to move some of the debris, which was smoldering in areas among the rubble, in order to help officials continue their investigation.
While the property will be altered by the excavator, Amaral said, it won’t be a full demolition process.
“That will give the property owner and their insurer their opportunity to investigate the site,” she said.
Kittery manager thanks firefighters
“Firefighters were working throughout the night on the site,” Amaral said on Thursday. “They have worked tirelessly and safely throughout this entire emergency and we are grateful for the work that they do, for our public safety dispatchers, from the police department and from responding communities.”
In the wake of the death, the Kittery Fire Department will undergo a critical incident stress debriefing.
The death at the Days Inn marks the first fatal fire in Kittery since a mobile home burned about three years ago, O’Brien said.
“I have several young firefighters … this would be their first fatal fire,” O’Brien said. “We will bring them in. We have a chaplain. We will sit down and go through the debrief and discuss it, and have them understand that things like this happen. They did everything they could. We’ll deal with that. We offer counseling. We have to wake up every morning and do our job.”