UNITY, Maine — The Amish Community Market and Bakery in Unity burned down on Thursday, leaving a smoldering, smoking heap of metal where the community gathering spot known for its Wednesday doughnuts had stood.
The store, run by members of the Amish community, drew accolades over the years from near and far for its well-crafted baked goods, drawing visitors from all over.
Nobody was hurt in the fire, which drew companies from nearly a dozen surrounding towns to try and quell the blaze.
Unity Fire Chief Blaine Parsons said that the first firefighters got to the store at about 2:30 p.m., when it was already engulfed in flames. The store is always closed to the public on Thursdays, and two employees made it out safely.
“We were on defensive mode from the get-go,” he said.
But the fire quickly consumed the metal building and its contents, which included all the chemicals for sale in the hardware section.
The firefighters’ efforts were complicated by the cold weather, which caused a couple of water lines to freeze up, Parsons said. Because of the ongoing statewide shortage of volunteer firefighters, he had to reach out to many other communities to find enough people to fight the mid-afternoon fire.
The cause of the fire will be investigated by the state fire marshal’s office, the chief said.
By 4 p.m., firefighters from Unity were continuing to douse the smoldering heap with water while other fire and ambulance companies began to pack up. Amish people watched from nearby, their old-fashioned dresses and other clothing making a contrast with the firefighters’ grimy turnout gear.
The store plays an important role in the region, especially within the Amish community.
“It’s definitely one of the center points of the entire community,” Emily Newell, a captain on the Unity Fire Department, said. “This is awful.”
Set against the clear blue sky, the tendrils of gray, purple and black smoke and bits of fire under the pile created an uneasy tableau in the otherwise quiet community.
On the roadside, signs for the store, including one advertising their homemade doughnuts, remained.
Later, as darkness fell, Stephen Smith, the son-in-law of store owner Caleb Stoll, worked to help take care of the family’s animals.
“It happened super fast,” he said of the fire.
A young woman had been working in the bakery, getting ready for Friday, when she suddenly heard a crackling sound from a wall near the boiler. She ran to get help, but it moved quickly.
“My brother-in-law was coming down from stacking ice. By the time he saw it, there was flames coming out of the skylights,” Smith said. “By the time they actually got there, which was maybe a minute later, it was blasting the windows out. So it went super, super fast, and really hot.”
He said the family probably would rebuild the store.
That is what community members such as David Gordon of Unity hope will happen. He walks along the road often and stops into the store quite a bit.
“I’m going to miss this place,” he said. “I hope they’re able to rebuild.”