Wood stove ashes start blaze that destroys Sangerville home

Posted Feb. 03, 2009, at 9:14 p.m.
Last modified Feb. 13, 2011, at 11:02 a.m.

SANGERVILLE, Maine — The fire that destroyed a North Dexter Road home and left a family homeless Monday night was accidental in nature.

Spencer Grinnell, who was renting the home on Route 23, had placed the ashes from a wood stove into a plastic tote and had left it beside the wood stove up against a wall, according to Investigator Scott Richardson of the State Fire Marshal’s Office. “The fire went from the plastic tote up through the cold air return and then got the living room going,” Richardson said Tuesday after he had sifted through the building’s remains.

The home is owned by Stephen Cardelli and was insured, according to Richardson.

Horrified Tuesday to learn of the cause, Grinnell said the family had used the wood stove infrequently to help heat the home. His wife had started the stove Sunday morning, and on Monday, when the stove was cold, he said he cleaned it out for the first time in two to three weeks. As is typical, Grinnell said he put the ashes into a thick plastic tote he used for the purpose. When the tote was full, he said he would dump the ashes over the driveway.

“I’m scared to death of wood stoves anyway, and I try to be damn careful,” Grinnell said Tuesday. “The stove was cold, there was no heat coming off of anything, it was all dust that was coming out of there and I don’t know, there must have been something alive in there.”

Grinnell said he was upset at himself. “I should have brought them outside. I’ve done it 50 times before and never had a problem.”

“It’s just overwhelming,” Grinnell said. His family will stay with his sister for a few days until they can find another place where the family can be together. While the family had renter’s insurance, which the owner required, it likely won’t cover the full loss. The couple also believe their two cats perished in the fire.

Grinnell said he and his children — Joshua Emerson, 16, Michaela Grinnell, 11, and Spencer Grinnell, 9 — had been looking forward to snowmobiling Monday on his day off from his job as business manager at Central Maine Motors in Waterville. His wife, Jennifer, was at work at T-Mobile in Oakland. He said as soon as the children got home from school, they took off to go snowmobiling. It was while the family took a break from trail riding that Grinnell heard his cellular phone ringing, he said. Grinnell said he tried to get to his phone, but missed the call because of all his gear. When he did pull the phone from beneath his clothing, he observed he had eight to 10 missed calls, most of which were from his sister, he said. He returned his sister’s call and learned of the fire.

Back at the fire scene, firefighters had been told by neighbors that two children might be inside the burning building, which caused angst among firefighters. A neighbor told authorities he had observed thick black smoke coming from the building at about 5 p.m. while en route to his nearby home. The neighbor stopped and ran to the door and hollered to alert anyone inside the home, but no one responded. It wasn’t until a couple of hours later, when Grinnell learned about the fire and quickly returned home, that firefighters gave a collective sigh of relief.

“I certainly thank all the hard work of the firefighters; they were fantastic,” Grinnell said.

The Pine Tree Chapter of the American Red Cross provided some temporary assistance to the family. Shannon Cox, executive director, said Tuesday the family was provided with housing for up to five days, a week’s worth of food for each family member and some clothing. She said the family could use more help, especially furnishings.

Anyone wishing to help the family should call Grinnell’s sister at 313-4339, or items may be left at the Dexter Police Department. The family could use beds and bedding as well as clothing. Spencer Jr. wears size 10 jeans, size 5 shoes, and a medium shirt. Michaela wears size 15 jeans, large tops and size 8 shoes. Joshua wears pants with a 32-inch waist and 31-inch inseam, size 11 shoes, and large tops. Grinnell wears jeans with a 38-inch waist, 30-inch inseam, size 10 shoes, and size XL shirts, and Jennifer wears size 5 slacks, small shirts and size 9 shoes.

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