NEWPORT, Maine — No one was injured Tuesday when the concussion force of an exploding oxygen tank knocked two Newport firefighters onto their backs and demolished part of a home.
“We’re very lucky,” said Newport Fire Chief Jeff Chretien.
Firefighters Matt Snowman and Amanda Chretien, pulling a hose with them, attacked the fire through the front door of 4 Old Bangor Road after the homeowner reported a blaze breaking out around the wood stove at about 12:30 p.m.
Chretien and Snowman, who had been warned that there was oxygen breathing equipment in the home, took a position just a few feet inside the door. As soon as the water hit the fire, there were two small “booms” followed by a big one, they said.
“It physically knocked us backwards, then the roof started to cave in,” said Snowman, who directed the nozzle while Chretien supported the hose.
“You could feel things hitting you,” Chretien said. “When we looked up, we had flames over our head.”
The force of the explosion tore away the ceiling and filled the room with flames as the cloud of pure oxygen burned. Snowman said his first thought was whether he or Chretien were hurt.
“I felt around and I had all my limbs and Amanda was OK behind me,” he said. “You really don’t have time to think right then and there.”
They recovered and attacked the fire starting with the flames above their heads.
The raised ranch, owned by Sylvia Larry and Craig Young, was not insured against fire, said Chief Jeff Chretien, who is Amanda Chretien’s husband. Crews from Newport, Corinna, Pittsfield, Detroit, Etna and Plymouth managed to contain the fire to the front rooms of the home, but there was heavy smoke and water damage throughout.
“It’s hard to tell if it’s salvageable,” said Jeff Chretien, who said the homeowners were staying with family members in the short term.
“It’s still standing, but there’s a lot of damage.”
The fire, located at the three-road intersection of Route 2, Old Bangor Road and the Christie Campground Road, caused minor delays to traffic on Route 2 as tankers brought water from a hydrant about a quarter-mile away. Chief Chretien said the State Fire Marshal’s Office determined the cause to be a malfunctioning wood stove.
Both firefighters who witnessed the explosion said it was the worst they had ever experienced, though both said they have been blown back by bursts of fire called flashovers. Amanda Chretien said her first flashover was Monday when she attacked another fire through the front door of a mobile home on Route 100 in Detroit.
That fire, which destroyed a home owned by Kenneth Judkins and Tiffany Carchide-Bouchard, according to an article in Tuesday’s Bangor Daily News, was ruled accidental. Chretien attributed Monday’s flashover to the sudden introduction of oxygen and water in the tight confines of the home.
“It got about a thousand degrees, right above my head,” she said.
“Once we opened the door and added cool water, the fire was everywhere.”