It was a little before 8 o'clock on the Saturday evening of July 19, 1969 when Dan Blaney heard the alarm from the air horn at town hall in Old Orchard Beach, Maine. Two blasts, then two more - pause - then repeated twice. That was Box 22: Old Orchard Street and East Grand Avenue - working fire in the White Way, a busy block of amusement rides and games leading to Old Orchard Pier and Casino.

The 25 year old Blaney's ears instantly perked up. He was a call man, or volunteer firefighter, along with his brothers Marty and Dicky. Grabbing the keys to his '68 Plymouth Valiant, Dan prepared to race downtown as his wife Gail, just returned from her cousin's wedding, jumped into the car at the last moment. Driving from their home about a half-mile from the beach, they came down Saco Avenue and turned onto Old Orchard Street. Gail remarked: "It looks like a trash can fire" and there appeared a small cone of black smoke emerging from the White Way corridor.

Deputy Fire Chief Thomas Smith was rolling out of the station with the two call men then on duty in Engine No. 2, a 1960 American LaFrance 1000 g.p.m. pumper. Nearby, Dicky Blaney saw the truck approaching and jumped on. Upon arriving, they found a much more serious situation: flames on the roof of the Pretzel dark ride located in the passage between Old Orchard Street and the rear area of the White Way and directly below Noah's Ark. The ride was known to locals as the "Moon Ride" because of its large moon-faced facade. Rocco and Anthony Aceto, managers of the Duffy Pier block, had tried vainly to knock down the fire until a person walking nearby pulled the alarm box.

The engine was quickly set up on Cortland Avenue behind the towering Jack & Jill Slide. Dicky Blaney grabbed a booster line from the truck and handed it to a bystander, telling him to keep it aimed into the fire hole. Now Engine No. 1 roared in, a 1948 American LaFrance pumper driven by engineer Phil LaPorte, setting up on Old Orchard Street at the hydrant located in front of the pier carousel. The call men soon realized the rapidly escalating fire could not be contained and were forced to retreat as the White Way area quickly became engulfed, flames shooting outward like a giant blowtorch.

Now totally out of control, the fire enveloped Noah's Ark, the Coal Mine and the carousel, leaving people stranded on the adjoining pier, its connection to the shore burnt away. Emergency personnel smashed the windows of a dozen cars in the rear parking lot to roll them away from the fire's approach. Then they noticed the teenaged operators of the Jack & Jill Slide standing atop the structure observing the fire. They were ordered to come down, being sprayed with water as they descended. Not long afterward, the slide's tower collapsed in flames.

Aiming to protect the Cortland Street buildings, Dan Blaney, Robert Murphy and Arthur Guerin set up a 2½ inch line drawing water from Engine No. 2. Another alarm was put out to neighboring communities with Engine No. 4 from Scarborough being the first to arrive from East Grand Avenue. The 100 foot aerial ladder truck was set up by Woolf's gift shop on the corner of East Grand and Old Orchard Street and was able to save the White Hall building, stopping a firepath that could have traveled the length of Old Orchard Street. Atop the ladder, call man Eddie Kinsman manned the nozzle and ate smoke before turning to safeguard the cavernous Palace Playland pavilion across the street.

Engine No. 2 now moved to the front of the burning Ark, connecting a suction line to the nearby hydrant. So intense was the heat that the truck's paint soon began to blister. A frantic order was given: "Knock off that suction line and get the hell out of there!" Call man Richard McKee struggled to remove the line until a curtain of darkness fell around his eyes as the visor of his helmet began to melt. Dicky Blaney and Charlie Hanson rushed over and helped break the line in time to back the engine out of harm's way.

Choked by emotion and the vomit rising in his throat, Dan Blaney saw much of what he had known since childhood fall to ashes. Amidst the swirl of cinders and blinding heat, layers of old paint crackled up from smouldering wood posts and blackened railings. And then the great hull of the Ark, helpless in dry dock, shuddered and heaved upon its pyre, foundering in waves of smoke before finally sinking into a boiling sea of flames.

Fire companies with apparatus from Saco, Biddeford, Scarborough, Portland, So. Portland, Hollis, Windham, Sanford and Kennebunk, some 26 pieces in all, had gathered to assist in battling the conflagration, ultimately bringing the fire under control around midnight. There were reports of people seeing the glow from as far away as Sebago Lake and York, Maine.

Emergency crews stayed until 1 am, drinking coffee from the Red Cross truck. After a few hours of sleep, they returned the next morning to survey the ruins. State Fire Marshall Lawrence Dolby and county fire inspectors were on the scene conducting the investigation. Found lying in the charred rubble of the Moon Ride was the fuse panel with a penny stuck in one of the receptacles. The employees admitted to the dangerous practice, that it was easier than repeatedly replacing the fuse.

Although it cost the resort its most enduring landmark, Noah's Ark as well as the pier carousel, there was, thankfully, no loss of life or serious injury, including the mules from the Coal Mine which were led away to safety. After the conclusion of the inspections, Rocco Aceto could be seen steering a bulldozer through the debris.

While news of the fire made the front page of the local papers, it was little more than a footnote in the national media whose attention that day was anxiously focused on two other events: a fatal auto accident on Chappaquiddick Island in Edgartown, Massachusetts involving a young Edward Kennedy, and the landing of the Apollo 11 space craft carrying the first men ever to walk on the lunar surface,
a "Moon Ride" the whole world was watching.

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