GARLAND, Maine — A young family lost virtually everything they owned Thursday when a fire raged through their home at 29 Dexter Road.
Even as firefighters from three towns struggled to extinguish the blaze early Thursday afternoon, community members had begun collecting donations for Joe and Christie Whitten and their three children.
“We worked so hard to buy that house for the kids,” a distraught Christie Whitten was heard saying to a firefighter who was trying to comfort her. According to records at the town office, the Whittens purchased the home and attached barn in March 2008. Paul Hesseltine, Christie Whitten’s father, who lives nearby, said the family probably would live with him in the short term.
“They just bought this place not too long ago,” he said, watching as firefighters fought the blaze. “It’s too bad.”
Garland Fire Capt. Jeffrey Belanger said a passing motorist noticed smoke coming from the building and called 911 around 11 a.m. By the time crews arrived, the front of the home was in flames.
“It’s a total loss,” said Belanger, who said a wood stove in the kitchen was likely to blame. “It’d been going for a while by the time we got here.” Fire crews from Dexter, Garland, Corinth and Corinna and an ambulance from Mayo Regional Hospital responded to the call. There were no injuries.
Hesseltine said he also suspected the wood stove.
“Christie told me she stoked the wood stove before she left, just like she always does in the morning,” said Hesseltine. A detective from the State Fire Marshal’s office was scheduled to investigate the scene today. It was unclear Thursday whether the family had insurance on the home.
No one was home when the fire started. Firefighters and neighbors were able to rescue the family’s four dogs unharmed, but the fate of at least one cat remained in question Thursday afternoon.
Christie Whitten is a nursing student in Bangor, according to Hesseltine, and her husband, Joe, drives a truck for a logging company. He was working more than two hours’ drive from Garland on Thursday and was rushing home to be with his family at about 1 p.m., said Hesseltine. The couple’s daughter and two sons, ages 7, 10 and 13, were at school.
A collection bucket was started at the Garland Store on Oliver Hill Road, and workers at the town office had a box out to collect items the family needs. That includes just about everything, said Garland Treasurer Juli Kimball.
“They’re going to need some help,” she said, rattling off a long list of suggestions ranging from clothing to hygiene products to leashes, food and bowls for the dogs. Kimball said items that would help comfort the children would be especially appreciated.
“People are already asking what they can do to help,” said Kimball. “Garland is an amazing community that way.” Kimball said anyone who wants to help may call the town office at 924-3163 for information.
An account to benefit the Whittens has been set up at Maine Highlands Federal Credit Union, Attn: Whitten Family Fund, P.O. Box 233, Dexter 04930.