RUMFORD, Maine — One minute Ernest Phillips was cutting his grass on Friday afternoon atop his Craftsman riding lawn mower.
The next minute, the mower was afire, sending the elderly man hurrying up his driveway to get a fire extinguisher.
“I almost got it out,” he said.
Phillips, who wasn’t injured, said he was mowing his front lawn at 263 South Rumford Road when the machine backfired and burst into flames.
“The backfire must have ignited some grass or whatever, and by the time I got people’s attention and got up to the house and got a fire extinguisher, it had a pretty good start on me,” he said. “It burned quite a while before the grass caught fire.”
That’s when the Fire Department was called, because Phillips said a strong breeze was blowing and he worried that it would get into trees in the yard and the house.
Rumford Fire Chief Robert Chase arrived from home in a T-shirt and short pants and pulled fire hose out of the arriving firetruck so fire Lt. Sylvanus “Butch” Glover and firefighter Ed Carey could extinguish the blaze.
Thick brown smoke could be seen billowing over the woods from about a mile away. That changed to white, blue and black smoke as Glover extinguished the fire.