Houlton Fire Chief Milton Cone (on right) surveys the damage Thursday morning of the fatal fire on Mechanic Street that claimed the life of a 4-year-old boy. Credit: Joseph Cyr / Houlton Pioneer Times

HOULTON, Maine — Fire officials were still on the scene Thursday morning of a devastating apartment fire that claimed the life of a 4-year-old boy.

Taimi Pinkham, 4, of Houlton died of smoke inhalation, Shannon Moss, public information officer for the Maine State Police, said Thursday.

Pinkham’s 12-year-old brother remains at Maine Medical Center in Portland with burn injuries. His 4-year-old twin sister did not suffer serious injuries and the survivors’ names were not released by police.

The fire completely destroyed a 14-unit apartment complex in Houlton’s downtown and displaced roughly 28 people. Although the community of Houlton was still reeling Thursday, the outpouring of support for those displaced by the fire proved overwhelming.

Firefighters were able to prevent Wednesday’s apartment fire from spreading to the McPartland Plumbing and Heating building, which was located less than a foot away from the structure.  Credit: Joseph Cyr / Houlton Pioneer Times

The Maine Fire Marshal’s Office is investigating the wreckage, searching for an origin point, but the investigation could take some time to complete,  Houlton Fire Chief Milton Cone said.

Fighting the blaze was a “fireman’s nightmare,” Cone said, because of the building’s several renovations. Many years ago, the building was a Studebaker automobile dealership, complete with gas pumps, and it later transitioned to an office building which included the Department of Health and Human Services.

Firefighters were able to prevent the blaze from spreading to adjacent buildings, despite high winds hindering their attack. Several concrete pillars were still standing Thursday morning.

The Red Cross used the upstairs of the Houlton Town Office Wednesday to meet with families and the operation moved to a makeshift shelter at the John Millar Civic Center for anyone who couldn’t find a place to stay.

All but three people had found accommodations with friends or family members, which prompted the Red Cross to close the shelter Thursday afternoon, Caroline King, Red Cross executive director for northern and eastern Maine, said.

Caroline King (left), executive director for northern and eastern Maine division of the Red Cross, and volunteer Bill Thomas stand in front of the John A. Millar Civic Center in Houlton. The center served as a shelter for those displaced by Wednesday’s fire in downtown Houlton. Credit: Joseph Cyr / Houlton Pioneer Times

“The outpouring of support has been phenomenal, but at the same time challenging,” King said. “These clients have nowhere to go with the things people are giving. Pairing up the appropriate items of apparel [for size] has been a challenge.”

King urged people to take donations to the Salvation Army in Houlton and financial donations can be made directly to the Red Cross.

A GoFundMe drive has also been created for the family of the child who died.

The Houlton fire is the second major fire in Aroostook County in the past two weeks for which the Red Cross has needed to set up a shelter. On March 11, Caribou’s Riverside Motor Court burned, leaving 35 people homeless.

“Never in all my years of working with the Red Cross have I seen two major fires so close together,” King said.

Jane Torres, Greater Houlton Chamber of Commerce  executive director, said she fielded multiple phone calls, from as far away as Florida, with people asking how they could assist.

“[The outpouring of support] is no surprise to any of us,” Torres said. “Everyone wants to pitch in and help. We live in a very special place. People will take blankets off their beds if they have to.”

Although the Salvation Army is the official dropoff site for clothing and other items, many people donated to Adopt-A-Block of Aroostook, a non-profit group affiliated with the Military Street Baptist Church. The group received so many donations that on Thursday morning they asked people to stop bringing clothing.

On the group’s Facebook page, Adopt-A-Block officials said there was still a need for towels, wash cloths and bedding. They are now set up in the church foyer.

“Your response and generosity is an incredible sight to see,” the post stated. “As people begin to find housing and need items like pots and pans and dishes and everything else we will then keep you posted to the needs but for now we are asking you to wait on clothing.”

Local thrift stores offered free clothing to those who lost their homes. Restaurants around Houlton and as far north as Mars Hill offered free meals to families affected by the fire.

Lorraine Monfils, the owner of Hollywood Pet Salon at nearby 70 Main St., was on the scene Wednesday, making sure animals rescued from the building had a warm, safe place.

Monfils, also the director of Houlton’s Ark Animal Sanctuary, offered dog and cat food, collars, leashes, pet dishes, litter boxes and pet beds, as well as some gift cards, for those impacted by the fire.

Cots were set up at the John Millar Civic Center as a makeshift shelter for individuals left homeless by Wednesday’s fire in downtown Houlton.  Credit: Joseph Cyr / Houlton Pioneer Times

Shiretown Gaming was open Wednesday and Thursday offering food, clothing and a place to shelter. They are working with other businesses who hope to offer meals this weekend.

“We have the most amazing customers and donations came in throughout the day,” Roxanne Bruce, one of the owners of Shiretown Gaming, said. “We know it will be a long journey. It was very much spur of the moment and we felt like we had to do something.”

Nancy Ketch, Houlton’s public information officer, said the response from the public has been nothing short of amazing. Anyone wishing to make a monetary donation to those impacted by the fire may do so at the Houlton Town Office, where a special account will be created.

“We all know each other and we all care about each other,” Ketch said. “People are heartbroken by this tragedy and want to do something to help.”

Correction: A previous version of this story misidentified Pinkham’s 12-year-old brother.