Loss of Albion Post Office affects more than 500 residents

Loss of Albion Post Office affects more than 500 residents

Albion Fire Department sprays down the buildings that housed the Albion food mart, social club, apartments and post office. (Breeze photos by Brittany Ballantyne)
Following the weekend blaze, folks travel to Manville to retrieve salvaged mail

LINCOLN – When the building that housed the Albion food mart, social club, apartments and post office went up in flames last weekend, with it went an unknown amount of mail sitting inside post office boxes.

Watch the building being demolished Wednesday.

More than 500 Albion residents had retrieved their mail at the post office, as there was no delivery service in the village, said Christine Dugas of the U.S. Postal Service.

Postal inspectors were able to retrieve all of the packages at the post office, and a vast majority of first class mail, Dugas said, which would include items such as tax returns. The inspectors, Dugas said, were able to gather the materials around midnight, about two hours after the first fire department crew responded to the scene Saturday night that claimed the historic building at the corner of School and Main streets.

Third class mail, such as fliers and advertisements, did not make it out of the building in the fire, Dugas said.

“There’s really no way of knowing exactly what didn’t get salvaged,” Dugas said, but the U.S. Postal Service has what’s called a “continuation of operations plan” for these types of situations.

“We’ve seen everything you can imagine,” she said, from fires to earthquakes to hurricanes.

Packages and first class mail, Dugas said, would likely be delivered to Albion residents at the end of this week.

While the long-term plans for an Albion Post Office haven’t yet been determined, Albion residents were directed to retrieve the rest of their mail at the Manville Post Office, located about 1.5 miles down the road from the now-charred Albion building. Mail pickup at the Manville office would be for the foreseeable future.

Albion Post Office employees got to work this week at the Manville office, located at 30 Railroad St., to sort through and hand out the remaining mail to residents claiming their items. Residents must show a photo ID to retrieve their mail.

Each Albion resident will receive a letter from USPS, Dugas said, stating details about the fire and an explanation for why some mail could be damaged or water-logged. Folks should hold onto this memo, she said, in the event that customers discover they are missing mail or their sent mail had not been delivered.

The Manville Post Office extended business hours to help Albion residents with the adjustments, Dugas said, and will be open from 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday through Friday, and 7:30 a.m. to noon on Saturdays.

Albion residents’ mail, she explained, is currently stored securely in the back of the Manville office, until customers come to retrieve it.

Dugas applauded the first responders and postal inspectors that worked to put out the fire and retrieve mail, adding, “It all could have been much worse without their quick response.”

A carelessly thrown cigarette inside the adjacent Albion Social Club was the cause of the weekend blaze, the state fire marshal reported earlier this week. The multiple-alarm fire that began Saturday evening was not declared fully out by fire crews until 16 hours later.

Albion Fire, located across the street from the fire scene, responded first, at 10:04 p.m. Saturday, and by Sunday at 2 p.m., the fire was officially determined fully out, Deputy Chief Robert Valentine said. While firefighters from all Lincoln stations battled the fire, crews from 12 different towns were called in to assist at the scene and cover Lincoln’s fire stations, he explained.

Councilman Jim Jahnz said the general feeling at the site was sadness and loss, as neighbors and folks who grew up in Albion showed up at the site. He said families in the area had taken on a sense of ownership of the building, which is more than 100 years old and sat at the four-way intersection of Main Street, Briarwood Drive, School Street and Albion Road.

“There’s been a lot of changes to that area, in particular, over the past couple years, and I think people are getting a sense of loss of history,” he said.

One of the most special things about the village, aside from its sense of community, Jahnz said, is its history.

“The fear is that it’s kind of just slipping away,” he said.

Speaking of residents, he said, “They really want to hold onto that.”

The history of the building and the way it was constructed was exactly what led to so many problems putting out the stubborn fire, Valentine said.

He was at the scene Saturday night, where the situation quickly arose to a multiple-alarm fire, calling for immediate mutual aid from surrounding towns. Valentine said, “We knew it was taking off on us; it was going to be in the attic. The chase was on.

“(In) those 100-year-old buildings … there are hidden fires everywhere, and that’s why we have to tear things apart … this fire found every hidden void known to mankind.”

The deputy chief explained the building construction did not contain “fire stops,” material that prevents flames from traveling quickly from floor to floor. Instead, he said, the building had what he called a “balloon flame structure.”

Valentine said firefighters initially headed inside the building, but were ordered back out to fight the fire from the outside after flames had been discovered within walls of the building.

Just when crews thought the structure was cleared, another fire would ignite in void spaces in walls, Valentine said Monday. It wasn’t until 6 a.m. Sunday that responders were able to get the largest part of the fire under control.

Chief Timothy Walsh of Lime Rock Fire was on the scene as snow began to fall last Sunday afternoon, and smoke continued to billow out of the building’s windows.

“The conditions of the building, the ambient temperatures, (and) the cold, made it a very difficult fire,” he said, adding that Lincoln Police helped tremendously.

Sgt. Walter Ptaszek and officers Chris Hannon and Mathew Paradis broke down the door to the apartment vacated by a couple, who were sleeping at the time fire crews responded to the site, and all made it out of the building safely.

The other apartment in the building, Valentine said Monday, was vacant.

Town Administrator Joseph Almond said that while the loss of the historic building came as a shock to those that grew up with many memories in the village, “had one person lost their life, that would have been the real tragedy.”

Long-term plans for the area and the Albion Post Office are still a work in progress, officials said.

Firefighters from the Lime Rock Fire Department make their way into the charred Albion food mart on Sunday morning.
Firefighters from all Lincoln stations battled the weekend fire, and crews from 12 different towns were called in to assist.

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