June 28–ROCHESTER — The owners of a beloved Gonic restaurant haven’t given up on reopening their business one year after it was destroyed in a massive six-alarm fire that claimed two buildings and damaged a third.
It was one year ago last week that a fire erupted between Phagins Bar and Grill and a seven-unit apartment building. More than 100 firefighters responded from 20 area departments to battle the fire, which also damaged an adjacent building that once housed Renaissance Firearms and Renaissance Signs. Those businesses have since moved to Barrington.
According to Phagins co-owner Shawna Ireland, the loss of the restaurant — which to many was like a second home — is still devastating, particularly because it’s still not clear whether she and her business partners will actually be able to rebuild.
“We hope someday to surprise everyone with its rebirth, but we just don’t have any answers that I know you all want to hear from us,” said Ireland.
Multiple roadblocks have prevented Phagins from reopening in the same 15 Main St. location. The location is important to Ireland — who was a frequent patron of the restaurant before she bought it seven months before the fire — because she feels doing so would help preserve the restaurant’s sense of family.
Phagins was demolished in August 2016 a few weeks after the 11 Main St. apartment building was razed. Today, the lots are still vacant. Meanwhile, the former Renaissance Firearms building at 19 Main St. is still vacant as its insurer continues to work to determine the building’s future.
It’s not hard for Interim Fire Chief Mark Dupuis to look back on the day of the fire. It’s the largest fire for which he’s ever taken command in his career. That fact alone would ordinarily make the call memorable, although Dupuis said unsettling videos taken during the fire, some of which showed residents climbing out of second-story windows and pushing out air conditioners to escape the fire, will forever stick in his head.
“It was frightening we came so close to a bad situation,” he said. “I do remember that more or less, had this been a different time of day, it could have taken lives.”
No residents were injured or killed during the fire, nor were any firefighters. Residents at the scene reported they were unable to rescue their pets from the apartment building during the fire, and after the fire several pets were unaccounted for.
Ernie Shipman, the owner of Renaissance Firearms and Renaissance Signs, wrote in a post on Facebook recently that at times it feels like the fire happened a lifetime ago, while other times it feels like only yesterday.
Shipman also wrote that he was beyond thankful there was no loss of life, as well as responded to some customers’ claims that the fire was a blessing in disguise because it allowed the businesses to move into a larger space.
“While it may seem that way, I hesitate to use that phrase,” he wrote. “It was VERY traumatic for those who lost their homes and a financial burden to the owners of (Phagins) and the 2 buildings.”
Dupuis said the fire was an “eye-opener” for many. In recent years, he said he’s come across a general sentiment that fires of that magnitude don’t happen as frequently or aren’t as deadly as they used to be — even as municipalities throughout New England grapple with significant events every year, including the massive Sanford, Maine, mill fire just last week.
“People might want to believe this stuff doesn’t happen and you can let your guard down, but this is proof that isn’t the case and it happened right here in our own community,” said Dupuis, stressing that locals should ensure smoke detectors are working properly and that all structures have multiple forms of egress.
“Things are better and things are safer, but (fires) are still going to take hold of buildings and people are still going to die,” Dupuis said. “That’s not going away any time soon.”
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