PORTLAND, Maine — An early morning fire damaged the lower floors of nearly a block of Portland’s Old Port Thursday, leaving seven residents homeless and at least temporarily closing five storefronts in the popular boutique shopping district.

The fire affected the stretch of connected brick buildings ranging from 414 to 418 Fore St., a block that faces Wharf Street on the back side.

Portland city spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said firefighters responded to the blaze around 1:30 a.m., after a witness reported smoke coming from the Dancing Elephant Indian restaurant at 29 Wharf St.

“They responded to a fire that was determined to be in the sub-basement level,” Clegg said. “It was particularly challenging because it was an old building and the sub-basement was a small, confined space.”

Clegg said firefighters had the blaze under control by about 6 a.m. Investigators will seek to determine a cause of the fire today, as well as assess the extent of the damage to the buildings and when or if portions of the building can be habitable again for businesses or residents, who lived in the upper-floor apartments.

Among the storefronts closed Thursday as a result of the incident were the Dancing Elephant, Wharf Street restaurant Street & Co. and Joe’s New York Pizza on Fore Street.

The Maine Department of Labor’s Rapid Response Team has contacted the affected businesses to offer consultation services to workers who won’t be able to collect paychecks while the stores and restaurants are cleaned up and rebuilt. The department announced a 2 p.m. Friday informational session for those employees at the Portland CareerCenter on Lancaster Street.

“Some businesses may be shut down for several days while others might need several weeks to get ready to serve customers again,” said Gov. Paul LePage in a Thursday statement. “Staff from the Portland CareerCenter are reaching out to help these workers and businesses get through the challenges the fire caused.”

The row buildings were built in 1900, according to the city assessor’s office, less than half a century after the Great Fire of 1866, which destroyed 1,800 buildings, left 10,000 people homeless and motivated builders in the downtown to use brick in their construction.

Thursday morning’s fire took place in a stretch of the Old Port adjacent to a two-block property that will be sold by auction within the next week.

Those buildings — at 432, 434, 436 and 446 Fore St., and 42 and 50 Wharf St. — contain roughly 49,567 square feet of leasable space, according to broker Cardente Real Estate.

The properties will be sold in an online auction beginning Sept. 23 and ending two days later. The opening bid will be $2 million.

Businesses in the buildings to be auctioned include bars such as Fore Play and Peal Lounge, as well as eateries Buck’s Naked BBQ, The Merry Table and 51 Wharf Restaurant.

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