A vigilant dog woke its owners to a fire in their house on Trafton Road early Wednesday morning that Fire Chief David LaFountain said started around a fireplace in the family, or living room, on the first floor where the couple had been sleeping.
Wellington, a black, 8-year-old Airedale-poodle mix, woke homeowners Michael Donihue and Susan MacKenzie just after 1 a.m. as the 324 Trafton Road house was filling with smoke, according to their next-door neighbor, Harold “Dusty” Woodside, a retired police officer and sergeant.
Woodside said the couple, both of whom teach at Colby College, called the fire department and then called Woodside and his wife, Linda, when the fire broke out.
“They’ll rebuild, but it’s tough to have to go through this all over again,” Woodside said. “I really feel for them. They’re really good people.”
Woodside was talking about a fire 18 years ago that MacKenzie and Donihue experienced when their first house was built on the site. Wood in the garage had been treated with linseed oil and left to dry, and a worker was supposed to leave the door open for ventilation but did not, according to Woodside.
“The whole house burned right down to the ground,” he recalled.
Messages left for Donihue and MacKenzie Wednesday at their hotel and via email were not returned by early afternoon, but Waterville fire Captain John Gromek said in a press release at 4:18 a.m. that after the fire started Wednesday morning, one of the homeowners tried to put it out with a bucket of water but the fire was too large. The release said the interior of the home had light smoke damage, but the exterior wall and roof had extensive fire damage.
However, just before 10 a.m. Wednesday, the fire re-ignited and traveled into the second floor, causing damage there, according to LaFountain.
He said the fire department has not had a situation where a fire has re-ignited in decades. Before firefighters leave a scene, they hit the fire site with Class A foam that is designed to prevent it from re-igniting, he said.
“This house is so well-insulated with blown-in insulation that when we did that with this call, the Class A foam was applied but the blown-in insulation was so thick that we didn’t get all of the embers that were inside that insulation, being protected by the mass of insulation,” LaFountain said.
The temperature was 12 below zero when firefighters responded to the 1:09 a.m. fire, according to LaFountain. He said the homeowner checked the Trafton Road house later, at 7 a.m. Wednesday, and saw nothing. After 10 a.m. firefighters got a call that the fire had restarted.
The first fire that broke out early Wednesday got into an alcove that houses the stone fireplace. When firefighters were called back after 10 a.m., the fire was in the second floor at the top of the alcove, he said.
“They did not lose everything,” LaFountain said of the damage. “The house was not gutted. Most of the damage was in the living room, in the wall on either side of the fireplace.”
Because of the extensive damage, fire officials are not sure exactly what caused the fire, or exactly where it started, he said.
“It’s obvious that it had something to do with the proximity to the fireplace,” he said. “It’s accidental.”
Trafton Road is beyond the city’s hydrant system so other fire departments were called for the 1:09 a.m. fire to help supply water with tankers, according to Gromek. About 30 firefighters from Waterville, Winslow, Oakland, Fairfield, Sidney, Albion and Vassalboro responded, he said.
The home is insured, according to both Gromek and Woodside.
Woodside, who retired as a sergeant and school resource officer from Oakland Police Department in 2013 after 13 years, and was a police officer and school resource officer in Waterville 26 years before that, said he was just about to go to bed early Wednesday when he got the call from Donihue. The fire department was on the way to the scene so Woodside stood at the end of his driveway to wait for firefighters. He and his wife, a retired social worker and director of social work services at Oak Grove Center, told Donihue and MacKenzie that their house was open to them.
LaFountain said that firefighters had to work to prevent hoses and nozzles from freezing while at the fire. They also had to be careful not to slip and fall on the ice — or get frostbite.
“Everybody needs to look out for everybody,” he said.
Meanwhile, LaFountain offered advice to those who are using heat sources and equipment such as space heaters during the cold weather.
He said it is important to follow maintenance rules that come with such devices.
“Space heaters need space,” he said. “It’s so cold right now that people crank up as much heat as they can with devices.”
It is critical, he said, that any device that produces heat be kept away from fuel and combustible materials.