AYER -- It was just about one day earlier that fire broke out at 63 Main St. On Tuesday night, selectmen used their televised platform to provide the community an update on the devastation that has befallen the Subway building downtown.
The good news was that "luckily, no one was injured or hurt," said Fire Chief Robert Pedrazzi.
The bad news is that the building is "pretty much a total loss," said Building Inspector Gabe Vellante.
The five-alarm fire broke out around midnight Monday into the early morning hours on Tuesday. Seven adults and two children tenants of the three-story structure escaped unharmed though all suffered property damage and have been left homeless.
The Subway restaurant was destroyed, as was the awaited Sidetracked Pub, which was under construction in the basement level of the building.
The cause of the fire was attributed to the spontaneous ignition of oil-soaked rags in the basement construction area that were being used to stain wood. The restaurant was within a month of opening for business.
Selectmen Chairman Jim Fay said the expertise of the Ayer Fire Department contained the fire and prevented its spread to adjoining buildings. Pedrazzi called his department a "very dedicated group of personnel," adding, "We do a lot of training."
Pedrazzi also said mutual aid was an enormous help. Seven communities responded with men and apparatus. Pedrazzi said the crew also raved about the strong water pressure downtown
"The potential for a lot larger fire" was present, said Pedrazzi. "I'm not going to say we were lucky -- it's what we train for."
Vellante said he toured the building Tuesday morning with Pedrazzi. "The fire started down in the basement and worked its way up to different levels." Vellante said there was "heavy structural damage" to the first floor. The second-floor framing was "completely demolished," leaving "no visible means of support for the floor joists."
The second- and third-floor apartments sustained water damage and cut holes made by the Fire Department to get at the fire in the walls. "The real problem with the apartments is the supporting structure underneath is so compromised ... the structural integrity of the building has to be in question."
Vellante said it was clear to him that the damage is "not something that can be rejuvenated or rehabbed."
Building co-owner Michael Field is a registered engineer. Vellante said he met with Field and the rest of the family that had invested in the building. "I told them I felt the best option is that the building is beyond repair and I'd be ordering it to be torn down."
The building was ordered secured by Wednesday; however that work was largely completed on Tuesday. Vellante said a timeline would be worked out with the Field family for "tear down and reconstruction."
Vellante stressed "This is a very dangerous site." Though the building may not have the "immediate potential of collapsing," Vellante added, "It's not a playground. Today a lot of people were wandering around in close proximity." Vellante said items could blow or fall off the building. "People should just stay away from it."
Field said the property is completely boarded up. "I believe it's up to standard for right now until we make our decision as to what to do."
"I just want to thank the fire chief and everybody involved for all the support," said Field. "It's incredible. If anything we can take from it, no one was injured."
Police Chief William Murray said the DPW was a major part of the team, erecting road barriers, helping manage traffic and ensuring a strong water supply during the fire fight.
Ayer Business Alliance President Chuck King praised the police and fire response. "They did an awesome job. No one got hurt. Spectacular job."
King said the Wednesday night Classic Car Show hosted by the Alliance will be a drop-zone for clothing, nonperishable food and monetary donations for the displaced tenants. The car show is from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Depot Square.
Cash donations will be accepted at the show and at Fresh Ayer Sports at 3 Park St. If donating via check, King advised that checks be made payable to the Ayer Business Alliance, with a note that the donation is for the "63 Main Fire Relief Fund."
King said the community is mobilizing as word spread of the need. A customer visited the supermarket and delivered "three big bags" of food to King's bicycle shop. King said he was also visited by an 8-year-old boy who cleaned out his closet and donated a box of his clothing for one of the two little boys left homeless in the blaze. King also thanked Nashoba Publishing for helping spread the word about the donation drive.
Leftover food items collected will be donated to Loaves & Fishes Food Pantry on Devens, said King. King said clothing bins will be set up at the car show.
"They-re out of a house. They-re out of a home," said King, who said the monetary donations will help tenants front first and last month's rent for their next apartment. "They just lost every damn thing they own."