‘A miracle’: Newburgh man pulled from burning home

Posted March 04, 2009, at 11:37 p.m.

NEWBURGH, Maine — An 81-year-old Newburgh man is lucky to be alive after the rambling white farmhouse he was born in caught fire Wednesday night and burned nearly to the ground.

Thanks to some passers-by and family members, Norris Nealley made it out of his burning house safely. While the fire still raged, Nealley was surrounded by family and resting comfortably at the home of his nephew, David Getchell, who lives next door.

“It was a miracle that he got out alive,” said Nealley’s sister, Joyce Clark.

According to Getchell and Clark, Getchell’s former wife, Karen, and friend Pat Rideout saw smoke coming from the two-story house while driving to Getchell’s to do laundry. They stopped to investigate and wound up pulling Nealley out of the home.

Nealley, whose eyesight is failing, was disoriented by the smoke and likely would not have made it out on his own, according to Clark. Ambulance personnel checked Nealley out at Getchell’s home and determined that he did not need a trip to the hospital.

“It really was a miracle. I hear about these on TV, how people are saved by a chain of events, but I’ve never seen it myself,” said Getchell, who placed the 911 call after seeing the smoke from the burning house and lights flickering on and off.

Despite the efforts of firefighters from Newburgh, Dixmont and Hampden, the Nealley house, located at 10 Croxley Road, just off Kennebec Road and directly across from Rigby Cemetery, could not be saved.

Newburgh Fire Chief Gary Sibley, who was first to arrive at the scene at about 7:30 p.m., said that the fire already had started to spread through the house, compromising its structural integrity and making it unsafe for fire crews to enter.

He said the fire appeared to have started in the chimney and spread up the walls to the attic and roof. The fire flared up several times during the night and firefighters were still at the scene at late Wednesday.

Getchell said Wednesday night that the house was not insured.

“Old-timers do no believe in insurance. They believe it is a waste of money,” he said. “But we do have lots of land and lots of family and that’s what counts.”

Among the items lost in the fire, he said, were several antique guns and coins.

According to Clark and Getchell, Nealley’s house, which was heated by a wood stove, was at least 120 years old and was one of the oldest houses in town.

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