BROOKS, Maine — The home of the owners of Ralph’s Cafe was leveled by a fire that began late Wednesday morning in the kitchen, Brooks Fire Chief Jeff Archer said Wednesday evening.
“It’s catastrophic,” Archer said, adding that the family lost everything to the fire. He said the family bought the 1½-story home, which used to be a ski lodge, about 15 years ago.
Archer said the fire was discovered by Peter Champa, who works nights and awoke to the smell of smoke and escaped to safety.
Champa’s mother, Susan Champa, and Frank Champa, co-owner of Ralph’s Cafe and Susan Champa’s other son, were traveling and not at home when the fire occurred. Mike Switzer, the cafe’s other co-owner, was at work, Archer said.
While no people were injured, the family’s pets — two dogs and a cat — remain unaccounted for, Archer said. He said it was unlikely that the pets survived, given the condition of the house after the fire.
Archer said that while the origin of the fire was pinpointed to the kitchen, its cause remained undetermined Wednesday night. An investigator from the state fire marshal’s office was called in, but despite that, the cause may not ever be known because of the extent of the damage.
Archer said that traffic on Route 7 was rerouted to allow firefighters to get water to the blaze, but the road was reopened by about 5:30 p.m.
Rose Rapp of Morrill, a cafe customer and friend, said Wednesday night that she knew she needed to come up with a way to help the family as soon as she learned about the fire through a Facebook post.
“The Champas and Mike Switzer have been so amazing to the community,” Rapp said, noting that among other things, the family frequently opens up the cafe to serve coffee and goods to local firefighters so they don’t have return home from their volunteer work on an empty stomach.
“It’s really sad to see this fire happen, but at the same time it’s nice to be able to show them the amount of outpouring and love coming from the community,” Rapp said.
According to Archer, firefighters from 16 area departments and emergency medical personnel worked throughout the day to put out the fire and deal with the mop up.