HOULTON, Maine — It has been almost three weeks since a devastating fire ripped through a downtown Houlton apartment building, claiming the life of a 4-year-old boy.
Since that time, a steady stream of donations totaling thousands of dollars have flowed into the Houlton Town Office to assist the nearly 40 occupants who had lost all of their belongings.
The 14-unit apartment complex on Mechanic Street burned to the ground March 23 in downtown Houlton. Firefighters managed to prevent the blaze from spreading to adjacent buildings, but one person died, one was seriously injured and the apartment complex was a total loss.
Taimi Pinkham, 4, of Houlton died of smoke inhalation, according to Shannon Moss, public information officer for the Maine State Police. Pinham’s 4-year-old twin sister did not have serious injuries, but his 12-year-old brother sustained serious burn injuries.
The state Fire Marshal’s Office has yet to determine the cause of the fire.
On Monday evening, the Houlton Town Council accepted a total of $29,256 in donations for the victims of the March 23 Mechanic Street fire. Included in that amount was nearly $10,000 from out-of-town laborers and contractors working at the Louisiana Pacific wood manufacturing plant in New Limerick.
“It was an amazing gift from folks who are here working in the area who are not normally members of our community,” Houlton Town Manager Marian Anderson said of the $10,000 donation. “It gives me faith in mankind.”
Because the town of Houlton is a governmental agency, Anderson said they were prevented from giving cash donations directly to the fire victims.
Instead, the town has been making payments to landlords, covering first and last month’s rent along with security deposits. The town has also paid for purchases at local department stores for household items.
“Thankfully folks have been finding places to live,” Anderson said. “It’s running about $2,500 per family unit to cover those rent costs. We are very appreciative to all of the people and businesses who have donated to make this happen.”
The town was required to keep documented information on money received and dispersed, including a large number of donated gift cards.
In addition to the funds handled by the town, local charity organizations like Adopt-a-Block of Aroostook and the Houlton Salvation Army have been instrumental in getting people outfitted with clothes and housewares.
Local businessman Jim Brown, owner of Brown’s Construction and Madigan Health Care, has opened the doors to a former thrift store he acquired where people can receive larger items such as refrigerators and stoves.
Donations can still be dropped off at the Houlton Town Office, either in person or by mailing to 21 Water St., Houlton, Maine 04730.
“We want to be as supportive as we can be to those folks who have suffered a loss,” Anderson said. “None of the folks who have come in have asked for more than they needed to meet their needs.”