HOLDEN, Maine — A heat lamp set up to keep the chicken coop warm is believed to be the cause of a fire that ripped though a barn early Thursday, destroying the building and the equipment inside, Fire Chief Jim Ellis said later that day.
A neighbor driving by 177 South Road noticed the fire just before 1 a.m. and stopped to help homeowners Michael and Carolyn Starks.
“He alerted the Starks and called 911,” Ellis said. “There were five chickens and six bunnies in the barn; three of the bunnies managed to escape the fire.”
The fire started in the area of the chicken pen and “we cannot rule out that [the heat lamp] was the cause,” Ellis said. “There is nothing suspicious.”
The call for help came in to the fire station at 1:01 a.m.
“Our engine arrived about five minutes after the call and found heavy fire in the northeast corner” of the barn, Ellis said.
Firefighters from Brewer, Dedham, Eddington and Orrington assisted Holden crews in knocking down the fire, which took about an hour, the fire chief said.
“We had to deal with cold temperatures and freezing equipment and lack of water in that part of town,” Ellis said. “Tankers shuttled from a farm pond about a half a mile away” to provide the water used.
The deep snow also hampered fire crews.
“It made access to the barn difficult — guys were waist-deep in snow,” Ellis said. “It was cold. We had no major mechanical failures, but we did freeze some lines.”
One firefighter, Johnathan Waltz, who started working for Holden in August, was treated at the scene for smoke inhalation and later was taken to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor.
“He was treated and released,” Ellis said.
The nearby house was not damaged in the fire, but the barn “is a total loss, although there are some walls partially standing,” the fire chief said.
A tractor, tools and equipment were lost in the fire, he said.
While local crews were making sure the fire was completely out and those from other communities were heading home, they heard about a fire in nearby Dedham.
“We were just coming back from the Holden fire and had one of our own,” Dedham Fire Chief Frank Myatt said about a 4 a.m. fire at 270 Upper Dedham Road.
One of the two residents awoke, heard the fire cracking and called for help.
“When they first got there they didn’t see anything,” Myatt said. “Then they went in and found it in the cellar. There was a rolling fire.”
Fire crews from Eddington and Holden assisted Dedham crews and managed to “basically confine it to the cellar,” Myatt said.
There was no heating system in the basement of the single-story house, Myatt said, adding, “I’m assuming it started as a chimney fire.”
The two residents got out safely, but some pets were lost including “a guinea pig, a cat and some snakes,” the chief said.
With two fires in the early hours of Thursday, “it was a busy night,” Ellis said.