SOUTH PORTLAND, Maine — A blazing ceiling collapsed on firefighters battling back a second-floor flare-up early Wednesday morning, but everyone was able to escape the ordeal alive, according to firefighters on scene.

The blaze, which decimated an apartment building at 554 Main St. and damaged the exterior of the structure next door, was reported at approximately 4:15 a.m. Wednesday.

“It really took off quickly,” South Portland Fire Chief Kevin Guimond told WCSH 6. “Within five minutes the roof was coming down on the firefighters. I had to evacuate them.”

The state fire marshal’s office determined that the blaze was accidental, Fire Marshal Joe Thomas said Wednesday afternoon.

“It appears to have started in or around a recessed light fixture in the ceiling of the second floor, and that would be consistent with the type of damage we found at the place,” Thomas said.

Thomas said an investigator from his office spoke to residents of the building, who said they smelled something burning Tuesday night, but could not find the source. He said the ceiling insulation likely was packed too closely to the the rear portion of the light fixture, starting off a slow, smoldering burn before a full fire caught on in the early morning hours.

“If they don’t have room to breathe, those [recessed light] canisters get very, very hot,” he said.

Nearby resident Matthew Robbins told the BDN the smell of smoke woke him and his wife up at their home as far as two blocks away. Robbins, a photographer and graphic artist, went to the scene and took pictures of the fire.

“You could feel the heat coming off of the building, and of course it was melting the siding on the building next to it,” Robbins said. “It was intense. Flames were just shooting up into the sky and huge plumes of smoke were billowing out.”

Traffic was blocked off for several hours in the Main Street vicinity of the incident, but has now been reopened. Approximately three residents of the apartment were reportedly unharmed in the fire.

Seth Koenig

Seth has nearly a decade of professional journalism experience and writes about the greater Portland region.