BELFAST — A massive conflagration destroyed Penobscot McCrum’s waterfront plant yesterday morning. At 10:20 a.m. Friday, March 25, Waldo County Dispatch said firefighters were still at the scene cleaning up. At about 11:20 a.m., the city issued an update saying the Rail Trail will be closed over the weekend, as crews continue to monitor the scene.

Just before 2 p.m. Thursday, March 24, Maine Department of Public Safety spokesman Shannon Moss issued a statement that the state Fire Marshal’s Office had been at the scene since around 3 a.m. The release said eight employees were at the plant at the time the fire started. All got out of the building safely.

Moss said fire officials think the fire was started by one of the large fryolator machines. She added, “Local fire crews are still fighting the fire and are having difficulty due to the metal siding/roofing. Investigators with the Fire Marshal’s Office have been interviewing staff today and are expected to return tomorrow to process the scene.”

Speaking at the scene shortly after 11 a.m. March 24, Fire Chief Patrick Richards said the fire started around 2 a.m., and Waldo County Dispatch immediately called out Belfast Fire Department. Its first unit, Tanker 5, arrived at the scene at 2:13 a.m.

By about 8 a.m. Belfast Police closed Route 1 from its junction with Route 3 across the bridge to East Belfast. Richards said no one was injured in the blaze, which was declared under control just before 10 a.m.

The city issued a press release around 10:20 a.m. saying the Route 1 bridge had been reopened.

Richards and the Belfast Fire and Ambulance Department initially responded to the blaze, according to the release. Mutual aid was provided by Belmont, Camden, Northport, Morrill, Liberty, Montville, Lincolnville, Searsmont, Searsport, Waldo and West Frankfort, among others, according to the city. The release also states that no ammonia or other chemical release has been reported.

Residents were being asked to shelter in place earlier in the morning, but the order was canceled just before 10 a.m.

Jay McCrum, who spoke to a reporter at the scene, said he believed the fire started in the fry room. He got a call from workers who initially thought they had it under control. McCrum said he was on his way to the plant when he learned the fire spread into one of the exhaust stacks.

The plant, which processes potatoes, is located on the waterfront on Pierce Street, and employs 138, McCrum said at a news conference Thursday afternoon.

Due to shifting winds, the proximity of the bus garage to the fire, and the possibility of toxic fumes from McCrum, Regional School Unit 71 canceled school, according to the district website. Nearby nursing homes were evacuated as well.

Searsport Police assisted with detouring traffic and the Waldo County Sheriff’s Office assisted with road closures in the vicinity of the fire.

This story will be updated.

Photos by Ethan Andrews

Belfast Fire Chief Patrick Richards, left, with his back to the camera, speaks with a crew member at the scene of the Penobscot McCrum fire shortly after 11 a.m. March 24. Richards said the plant was destroyed. Photo by Carolyn Zachary

Fire at Penobscot McCrum, seen from River Avenue just before 8 a.m. March 24. Photo by Carolyn Zachary

Penobscot McCrum plant ablaze at 8 a.m. March 24. Photo by Carolyn Zachary

An aerial view of the damage to Penobscot McCrum after the fire. Photo by Ethan Andrews