MOUNT DESERT, Maine — Investigators have decided that a fire that destroyed a Main Street restaurant in Northeast Harbor last week was accidental, according to officials.

Sgt. Tim York with the State Fire Marshal’s Office said Tuesday that the fire on Jan. 23 at the Tan Turtle Tavern is believed to have been started accidentally by plumbers who had been working in the building earlier in the day. Pipes in the restaurant had frozen earlier in the week, and carpenters and plumbers had been working in the building to make repairs, he said.

“They probably got something warmer than they thought they did,” York said.

The burn patterns in the building’s remains traced back to the areas where the plumbers had been working, York said, leading investigators to believe the blaze was an accident.

The fire was discovered shortly before 6 p.m. last Friday by two pedestrian passers-by who saw flames inside the restaurant, which had been closed down for the winter. Responding firefighters initially went inside the building and fought the flames on the first floor, but had to retreat when they realized the fire had spread through the building, resulting in intense smoke and heat in a second-floor apartment. No one was in or living in the building at the time of the fire.

Firefighters from several nearby towns were able to prevent the flames from spreading to nearby buildings along the village’s densely developed Main Street.

According to local Fire Chief Mike Bender, the restaurant since has been razed and the debris removed, leaving only an empty lot.

Bender said the fire burned through the roof and caused the building’s interior to collapse. Investigators demolished some of the standing remains over the weekend while looking into how the fire may have started, he said, and it was not safe to leave any of it standing.

“It was pretty well gutted inside,” Bender said.

The building and restaurant owner, Rob DeGennaro, is in Fort Myers, Fla., for the winter.

The Tan Turtle Tavern is the fourth Main Street building destroyed by fire in the past year. The three other buildings were destroyed last July after an early-morning explosion at the Colonel’s Deli and Bakery set that restaurant on fire and then spread to two adjacent buildings. A paramedic injured in that fire has recovered, but 23 people who lived in upstairs apartments were displaced by that blaze.

Mark and Stephanie Reece, owners of Colonel’s Deli, are rebuilding their business and hope to reopen this summer.

Bender said the Tan Turtle Tavern was insured, though he was not sure to what extent. According to the town’s official online assessor’s database, the building had an assessed value of $347,700.

Avatar photo

Bill Trotter

A news reporter in coastal Maine for more than 20 years, Bill Trotter writes about how the Atlantic Ocean and the state's iconic coastline help to shape the lives of coastal Maine residents and visitors....