SKOWHEGAN — An accidental fire caused extensive damage Monday morning to Folsoms Auto Sales, Service & Salvage, a longtime, family-owned business in Skowhegan.
The cause of the blaze at 232 Rowe Road was deemed accidental, Fire Chief Shawn Howard of the Skowhegan Fire Department said later in the afternoon.
“We’re looking at failure of a certain piece of equipment,” Howard said.
Howard said investigators from the Office of State Fire Marshal had been called to the scene to assist in the investigation. He did not have additional information on the equipment that caused the fire and said it will likely be the insurance company that investigates further.
The fire was reported just before 10 a.m. Howard said additional alarms were sounded because of the location of the fire and the potential for it to get worse because of the vehicles inside the garage.
“With the large fuel load and the size of the building, we went to a third alarm very early to make sure that we had adequate water supply because we’re well outside of the hydro district,” Howard said.
No one was injured in the blaze that engulfed the business and created black, billowing smoke.
Bobbi Folsom, who owns the business with her husband, David Folsom II, said that eight occupants were in the business at the time of the blaze, including the couple’s 10-month-old child.
Hours after the blaze, Folsom said she and her husband are working to mobilize the business and pick it back up as soon as possible. Around 4 p.m. she said that an insurance adjustor was on the way to assess the damage.
When the flames broke out, she said that her husband, his brother and another employee worked fast to get machinery out as well as office equipment. Destroyed in the fire were several vehicles and more than $200,000 in tools.
Saved in the blaze were four computers and the contents of Bobbi Folsom’s desk, who is also the office manager.
“They were able to save four computers and pull out all the drawers of my desk, which had bills that need to be paid, a checkbook, a payroll binder and all of our 2020 tax documents that I was getting ready to mail out to have our taxes done,” Folsom said. “They thought real quick and they were able to get that stuff out. That was really a blessing in disguise.”
Folsoms Auto was opened in 1967 by Richard Folsom. In 1984, the business was purchased by David Folsom and a business partner and in 2018, was sold to his son, David Folsom II and wife Bobbi Folsom. Upon purchasing the business, the couple rebuilt the original garage into a large storage building. The structure that burned was attached to this garage and built in 2003.
“I can’t speak for everybody, but we plan to get a trailer rolled in with offices and get the internet and phones back up and running and still be able to dismantle and get parts going until we can get the new structure back up and built,” Folsom said. “The good thing is the building that wasn’t touched used to be a garage and we do have a lift out back, so we still have ways to function up there.”
The couple has a friend who was going to drop off a trailer to be used for office space in the meantime. As for the employees who have been displaced, she said that she is not sure what will happen yet as everyone grapples with the loss.
“I really don’t know. We’re still working to figure that out,” Folsom said. “We’re still in shock in the aftermath of it. Our plan is to get business up and rolling as quick as possible because it’s our livelihood.”
She wants to try to keep all employees on the payroll, but understands if they do not want to wait and make other arrangements.
The couple also owns rental properties in town and Mr. Bubbles Laundromat.
“Right now what’s important is that everybody that was working got out of here safely,” Howard said. “It’s a significant loss. With businesses like this there is a lot of equipment and tools.”
The fire generated a significant response, including Skowhegan and Maine State Police; firefighters from Skowhegan, Anson, Athens, Canaan, Fairfield, Madison, Norridgewock, Oakland, Solon and Waterville; Redington-Fairview General Hospital Emergency Service; A&M Emergency Services; and the Skowhegan Highway Department.
“This is one of those things where we can’t just sit and think about it,” Folsom said. “We’re not letting this hold us down. We’re going to come back stronger than ever.”