By Dustin Luca
---- — A historic mill barn that’s said to be the oldest of its kind in the area was just a month into a demolition delay restriction when it caught fire last week, sustaining minor damage.
The two-story barn with Abbot Mill, at 18-20 Red Spring Road, was dealt about $10,000 worth of damage in the fire that broke out in the basement on Thursday afternoon, April 11, according to Fire Chief Mike Mansfield.
Just shy of its 200th birthday, the building is significant to the area, according to Preservation Commission Chairwoman Karen Herman.
Owner Ozzy Properties in North Andover has been remodeling the neighboring mill building and was seeking to tear down the barn in the process, Herman said.
“We had a preservation hearing in March, and (the barn) is under a one-year demolition delay,” Herman said. “It’s a very historic structure, but it’s not in good repair. We felt that we were waiting for the developer to develop plans on the site, which they were going to get back to us on.”
Once a hallmark of the textile industry in the Merrimack Valley, the building was used for manufacturing until several decades ago. It has been “standing empty for some time,” Herman said.
The first call on the fire came in when the building’s internal fire alarm system alerted dispatchers, according to scanner reports. Several 911 calls reporting smoke crawling out of the barn’s windows followed.
When fire crews first entered the building, they discovered it was being used as storage for items taken out of the neighboring mill structure during its renovation, Mansfield said.
Conditions at the scene both helped and hampered response to the blaze. Internal sprinkler systems automatically activated, helping to keep the fire from spreading, Mansfield said.
However, a fire hydrant on Red Spring Road to the west of the building was found to be in such bad condition that it was unusable, the chief said. Firefighters had to quickly move to another hydrant on the east side of the building.
The cause of the fire remains under investigation, Mansfield said. Although he wouldn’t speculate on a cause, he didn’t see any indication at the scene that it was intentionally set.
“The building was fully secured. The firefighters had to force entry into the building to advance hose lines into the building,” he said. “Certainly, we aren’t going to rule anything out until the investigation is complete.”