This story will be updated.

FRENCHVILLE, Maine —  A fire engulfed a large portion of the Dr. Levesque Elementary School in Frenchville Sunday morning, destroying one wing of the building.

The school had two wings, the first built in 1951 and the second a few years later. The first wing was not on fire, according to fire officials. 

Custodian Adam Pelletier, who was working on the grounds, saw smoke coming from the air exchange vents at 6:50 a.m., and entered the building to find flames coming out of a wall. 

Pelletier said he emptied two fire extinguishers, immediately called Frenchville Fire and left the building.

The call to emergency departments came in roughly at 7 a.m., according to Madawaska EMS personnel. 

Firefighters work to battle the blaze at the Dr. Levesque Elementary School in Frenchville Sunday morning. Credit: Hannah Catlin / St. John Valley Times

People at the scene said the fire appeared to be small, only coming through a corner of the roof around that time. But by 9 a.m., the fire had spread extensively and flames leapt through the one-story building’s roof.

“It started in the office and in the gym. From there it went up to the roof,” said Frenchville Fire Chief Peter Parent. “It’s a double roof, so it’s very hard to contain. And it took off in the roof in both directions.”

As firefighters tended to the flames, strong, shifting winds blew the smoke, hampering visibility and throwing ash and sparks.

“[The wind] makes it vent a lot faster and it gives it oxygen, so it escalates,” Parent said, adding that no one had been injured.

School district workers supplied water and food to emergency personnel.

At around 11 a.m., two exterior walls of the second wing — still on fire — were all that remained. The rest of the building’s facade collapsed and will be torn down. 

Dr. Levesque Principal Cheryl Hallowell said she’s only been at the school a year, but it captured her heart.

Firefighters train hoses on flames leaping from the roof of the Dr. Levesque Elementary School in Frenchville Sunday morning. Credit: Courtesy of Patience Bernier

“It’s surreal. It’s just not real at all. It’s heartbreaking. We have spent the last year doing a lot of work in the building, repairs that had been waiting for awhile. It’s devastating for the entire community,” Hallowell said.

the entire community,” Hallowell said.

“I’m worried about the next school year. I’m worried about where they’re going to go,” said Cindy Nadeau, a mother of Dr. Levesque students. “They just got over COVID and all those new rules and all those new regulations, and now the school is eliminated.”  

The SAD 33 administration will meet Monday to begin formulating a plan for the next school year.

Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified Cindy Nadeau and her connection to the school.

Hannah Catlin

Hannah Catlin is a reporter at the St. John Valley Times/Fiddlehead Focus in Madawaska, Maine.