ST. ALBANS, Maine — When Vertina “Pearl” Jones’ dog Brandy woke her at 1:30 a.m. Friday, the first thing Jones noticed was the smell of smoke.
Jones, 83, fled her home without injury, but Brandy, a Labrador retriever cross, didn’t make it out.
After Jones and a second dog made it outside, she realized Brandy was missing. Jones tried to get back into the house but couldn’t.
“My mother couldn’t get back in the entryway door because of all the smoke,” said Curtis Price, Jones’ son. “She tried the back door, and it was locked. She tried the out-front door, and it was locked. She’s very broken up about losing that dog.”
By the time fire crews arrived, the home at 135 Todd’s Corner Road was billowing smoke and flames, said St. Albans Fire Chief Brian Crocker.
“She mentioned to me that the dog that had woken her up ran into the bathroom and basically hid,” said Crocker. “It’s very sad.”
Firefighters rushed into the home and attacked the flames directly, saving most of the home’s external structure. The interior is severely burned with heavy smoke damage throughout, said Crocker, who took over the department this month after his uncle David Crocker stepped down.
“There was very high heat inside,” the fire chief said. Single-digit temperatures provided a challenge for personnel and equipment, as did the home’s construction. Several remodeling projects over the years gave the flames lots of places to hide, said Crocker, keeping firefighters at the scene for more than five hours.
“It was just a hard fire to get to,” he said. “It’s very impressive that the place is still standing. I’m very proud of my guys.”
Firefighters from the Corinna and Hartland fire departments also helped at the scene.
Price said his mother, who moved into the home in 1970, lived there alone since her husband died three years ago. The home was not insured.
Jones, who Price said is well known in the area for her many volunteer efforts, was injured later Friday when she slipped on ice in the driveway and hit her head. She was taken to Sebasticook Valley Hospital in Pittsfield, where she was still being evaluated Friday evening, according to Price.
Investigators are still searching for the cause of the fire, which started in an entryway. Sgt. Ken Grimes of the Maine Fire Marshal’s Office said Friday that an electrical expert was due at the home today to determine whether faulty wiring could have been a factor.
Price said volunteers from a local nonprofit organization had performed a weatherization project in the home this week, including work in the area where the fire started. Asked if that project could have contributed to the blaze, Grimes said, “We don’t know yet.”
Jones has several family members in the area, one of whom owns a nearby rental home that is vacant.
“She’ll have that place as long as she needs it,” said Price. “We’ll take care of her.”