DOVER-FOXCROFT, Maine — A blaring smoke detector and an alert 14-year-old saved her family and seven dogs from a fire that destroyed their home Saturday morning, firefighters said Sunday.
The Roberts family and its pets might have died in the fire at 13 Forest St. if not for the bravery and quick thinking of Emilee Hartley, Fire Chief Joe Guyotte said.
“She really ought to be commended,” Guyotte said Sunday. “You talk about bravery [and intelligence], but my gosh, she’s everything rolled into one.”
The Foxcroft Academy freshman was asleep on the sofa in the first-floor living room when the alarm and smoke pouring from the kitchen awoke her, she said. It was about 7:45 a.m.
“I looked up and all I can see is my stove on fire,” Emilee said. “I don’t know what I thought. I just knew I had to get everybody out. I don’t know. I didn’t think anything could stop me. I just wanted to get everybody out.”
Emilee ran upstairs to her parents’ bedroom, yelling to awaken stepfather Joe Roberts and her mother, Stacie Roberts. She ran to her brother’s room and hoisted 3-year-old Isaeya Roberts from his crib, Stacie Roberts and Emilee said.
While Stacie called 911 on her cell phone, Emilee carried Isaeya and hustled the family downstairs to the bathroom. A large box of toys blocked the other immediate escape route, Guyotte said.
The smoke was overwhelming, Emilee said.
As Joe Roberts tried to douse the flames with a fire extinguisher, Emilee used her fists to punch a large hole into the bathroom window screen. Yelling, “I am going to take him next door,” Emilee carried her brother through the window and went to neighbors Pat and Betsy Ryan, who also called 911, Stacie Roberts said. Joe, Stacie and the dogs followed. Three cats died in the fire.
Emilee’s actions stunned everyone.
“The others never even heard the smoke detectors,” Guyotte said. “They had four of them — two upstairs and two downstairs. We don’t know what the outcome would have been if she hadn’t been alert.”
“We are just amazed at how she took control of the situation,” Stacie Roberts said. “She just took over. She led us straight into the bathroom. She didn’t stop and think.
“She is way more mature than her age, but I guess I wouldn’t have expected her to do well in that situation,” Roberts added. “Even as we got next door, I was in hysterics and she was like, ‘It’s OK, Mom. We got out all right.’ She was calming me down. She was just so mature and calming.”
Emilee’s first thought was to save her brother, whose bedroom was right above the kitchen, said Charlene McInnis, Emilee’s grandmother and the owner of the home.
Firefighters thought they would have to do the rescuing when Piscataquis County Sheriff’s Office dispatchers received the first 911 call at 7:52 a.m., Guyotte said. It was reported that at least two people were trapped inside the 2½-story, balloon-frame wooden building.
“Boy, that really gets the adrenaline going,” Guyotte said.
Firefighters were en route when a Mayo Regional Hospital ambulance crew radioed the family’s escape. It was so hurried that Stacie got away wearing only one slipper, McInnis said.
When firefighters arrived, flames were shooting out the front door and porch. Firefighters knocked down the flames initially, then Guyotte sent several teams into the building to try to save it by attacking the flames at their sources, he said.
With only one working nearby hydrant — the other malfunctioned — firefighters called for mutual aid from the Guilford and Sangerville fire departments, which brought tankers. One drew water from Dunham Brook, pumping thousands of gallons through a 4-inch line to the Dover-Foxcroft aerial truck, Guyotte said.
The malfunction cost a crucial 10 minutes, Guyotte said, but he doubted that a working hydrant would have saved the building. The house’s additions and heavy insulation trapped heat that allowed the flames to spread in all directions quickly. With any balloon-framed building, the lack of fire stops in the walls allows fire to spread into ceiling or attic areas unencumbered.
“We had a miserable time digging it out,” he said.
Guyotte conceded defeat when the interior attack teams simultaneously sent downstairs and upstairs told him they couldn’t get to all the flames. He ordered firefighters on the aerial truck to drown the flames through the roof, he said.
They cleared the fire scene at about 1 p.m.
Maine State Fire Marshal’s Office Investigator Stu Jacobs ruled Sunday that the fire began by accident in a trash bin near the kitchen stove, Guyotte said. No one knows what ignited the trash.
Although the house is insured, McInnis said, how the family, which is staying with her in Dexter, will reassemble its life remains a mystery.
“They are all all right. That’s the important thing,” McInnis said. “We just thank God for that.
“It’s a good thing that Emilee fell asleep on the couch that night. Usually she falls asleep watching TV or she just doesn’t bother to come upstairs to bed,” McInnis added. “She likes school and all, but it’s a surprise that kids that age would even think like that and be so brave.”
“I don’t think I was being really brave,” Emilee said. “I didn’t fight the fire or anything. I just got my family out.”
To make contributions to help the family telephone Stacie at 270-0522 or Merle and Charlene McInnis in Dexter at 924-5023.
Almost everything the Roberts family owns was destroyed.