HOLDEN, Maine — A couple of curious passers-by saw thick, black smoke billowing above Wiswell Road on Tuesday morning and decided to investigate.
What they found just before 11 a.m. was Shane Geiser — with his large yellow Lab, Alley — on top of his expansive Balsam Drive house trying to get away from the flames consuming the home.
“He couldn’t escape,” Holden Fire Chief Jim Ellis said from the scene Tuesday afternoon. “They found him and the dog on the porch roof.”
Alley’s barking had awakened Geiser minutes earlier and alerted him to the fire. His only escape route was out a second-floor window and onto the roof of his wraparound porch, the homeowner said in a telephone interview Tuesday.
“She was freaking out and started barking and it woke me up,” Geiser said. “I was dead asleep.”
He opened his bedroom door and “you couldn’t see three inches in front of your face,” he recalled. The open door gave the fire fuel and “it followed me right back into our bedroom.”
That’s when he and Alley went out the window. Just then, the curious passers-by were approaching the house in their cars.
Brook Hardy, whose parents live nearby in Holden, and local resident Ronald Treat, who lives on Copeland Hill Road, arrived at the same time.
“I had gone in town to get some parts at Lowe’s” and was returning home when “I saw smoke and I was curious where it was coming from,” Treat said.
He said that as he drove down the short dirt roadway, “there was a man and his dog on one of the roofs and he was waving his arms. There was a lot of smoke coming out of the basement of his house.
“I called 911 and the young lady [Hardy] ran up and grabbed a ladder,” Treat said. “She knew what she was doing.”
Geiser is a local carpenter and painter and luckily had an extension ladder nearby that Hardy used to reach the top of the porch.
“They were great,” the homeowner said of the good Samaritans.
After calling for help, Treat went up the ladder and first helped to get Alley, who weighs about 90 pounds, off the roof, and then Geiser.
Once both were safe, Treat went down to the end of the dirt road to direct firefighters to the house.
Ellis said Geiser was fortunate to have had the help of Treat and Hardy. The chief said that when firefighters arrived, there was heavy fire in the basement of the single-family home.
A short time later, “the first floor collapsed into the basement and the second floor followed shortly, collapsing onto the first floor,” the fire chief said. “The collapse was at the center of the house.”
The large size of the house and the lack of water created the need to call in firefighters from all over the region. On hand were crews from Brewer, Eddington, Orrington, Dedham-Lucerne, Hampden and Milford.
“We have no water up here,” Ellis said. “Water had to be trucked in with tankers.”
The home is owned by Geiser and his wife, Ann, and has an assessed property value of $274,400. The couple live at the home with their three young children, who were at school, Ellis said. The house was insured, Geiser said.
No firefighters were injured, but several were treated at the scene for exhaustion and dehydration, Ellis said. Firefighters from Holden, Eddington and Orrington were still at the scene Tuesday evening looking for hot spots, he said.
“We’ll probably be here most of the night,” Ellis said.
Investigators with the State Fire Marshal’s Office arrived at the scene Tuesday afternoon, but they could do little with firefighters still working there.
“At the earliest it will be late tomorrow afternoon” before investigators get a chance to go through the debris to look for the cause, Sgt. Tim York of the fire marshal’s office said Tuesday evening.
“The fire originated in the basement, but we don’t know why,” Ellis said.
The fire chief praised the efforts of Hardy and Treat. If they had not been curious and gone to investigate, he said, Geiser may not have made it safely out of his burning home.
“They certainly are to be commended with helping him get down,” Ellis said.
Treat modestly said he did what anyone else in the same situation would have done.
“It’s a good thing I did, I guess,” he said.
Geiser, who was treated at Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor for smoke inhalation, thanked the two good Samaritans and the many firefighters.
“We’re really grateful,” he said by phone while shopping at Walmart for necessities such as clothing and toothbrushes.