WINTERPORT, Maine — Cindy Hogencamp walked into the village to have breakfast Wednesday morning. When she returned home, a firetruck was in her yard and thick, dark smoke was billowing out from under the eaves of her roof.
In shock and not knowing what to do, “I just got out of their way,” she said.
Hogencamp stood stunned in her driveway at around 11:30 a.m. as firefighters tried to put out the flames that were eating away at the home she shares with her five young children.
“The kids are all at school,” she said as tears streamed down her face. “I’ve got a dog in there. I haven’t seen him.”
Hogencamp, a single mother, has four girls and one boy, she said. The younger children, 5-year-old twins, a 10-year-old and a 13-year-old, were all in school in Winterport. Her 15-year-old daughter was at Hampden Academy.
The family dog, named Buddy, was presumed to have died in the fire, Winterport Fire Chief Thomas Doe said in a telephone interview Wednesday night.
“The house was closed up pretty tight when we got there,” Doe said, adding the dog’s escape was unlikely.
Doe said investigators from the State Fire Marshal’s Office are expected in Winterport today to help pinpoint the cause of the fire that heavily damaged parts of the home. He said it was not yet clear if the house was salvageable.
Shortly after word spread of the fire, family, friends, co-workers and neighbors from all over town stopped by to offer Hogencamp their support, some giving her hugs. Others called her on her cell phone to get updates on the fire and to see if there was anything she needed.
“It’s bad,” she said to one caller.
Thick smoke escaped through the windows and the open front door of the home at 709 Main St., and the house’s backside had a hole where the fire broke through.
Hogencamp said that area of the home was a pantry.
“Nothing was on [in the house]; everything was off,” she said, adding she didn’t have any idea how the fire could have started.
A passing motorist noticed the smoke, and the call for help went out at around 11 a.m., with firefighters from the town and the neighboring communities of Hampden and Frankfort responding.
Winterport resident Tim McKay, who retired from the Bangor Fire Department after 22 years, asked firefighters if they needed help. Watching the fire burn was frustrating, he said from a spot across the street.
“The problem with small towns [with volunteer departments] is that you have to wait for everybody to show up, and by then it’s too late to go in,” McKay said.
Minutes count, and the longer the wait, the bigger the fire, he said.
“I’d say 90 percent will be gone before it’s done,” McKay said of the burning home. “The roof is unsafe and will need to come down.”
Firefighters remained at the scene for at least seven hours, but were not able to fight the blaze from inside the house. Instead, they concentrated their hoses on the exterior, the back and the roof.
Hogencamp’s boss at the RH Foster On the Run convenience store where she works as an assistant manager stopped to see her.
“RH Foster will definitely help,” store manager Julie Buzzell said. “Winterport is a close-knit community. They will take care of her.”
After making a call or two on her cell phone, Buzzell told Hogencamp that “the wheels are in motion.”
The home is insured, but what Hogencamp and her children had on their backs is basically what they have left.
“I have nothing,” Hogencamp said, “but my kids are safe.”
The Pine Tree Chapter of the American Red Cross is helping the family cope with its losses.
Hillary Roberts, the chapter’s disaster coordinator, said Wednesday night that the Hogencamps had found a place to stay, so the Red Cross was focussing on providing food, clothing and emotional support.
Cash donation cans to support the family have been set out at all R.H. Foster stores, including the Winterport location, which also is accepting donations of clothing, furniture and household items. To make arrangements to drop off those items, call the store at 223-3906.
Donations to the Pine Tree Chapter of the American Red Cross should be sent to 33 Mildred Ave., Bangor, ME 04401. Credit card contributions can be made by calling the chapter at 941-2903.
BDN writer Dawn Gagnon contributed to this report.