East Millinocket firefighter’s house damaged in blaze

Posted Oct. 30, 2011, at 6:30 p.m.

EAST MILLINOCKET, Maine — Town firefighter-EMT Adam Villalpando and his oldest son, Renzo, had just left the town Public Safety building and were walking into the town library, where his wife, Lelah, was helping prepare a Halloween party, when they heard a dispatcher’s voice on Adam’s firefighter’s radio.

“All available firefighters. We have flames in the basement,” town firefighter John Miner was saying, “47 Cedar St.”

“We looked at each other and said, ‘That’s our house!’” Villalpando recalled Sunday. “We knew my youngest son and daughter were there. That’s all the info we had.”

Luckily for the Villalpandos, no one was injured in the fire, which was reported at about 7:20 p.m. Friday, and his fellow firefighters kept the flames largely contained in the basement of the one-story home, Fire Chief Les Brown said.

The home appears quite salvageable, Brown said. The fire burned debris and other items in the cellar and might have extended slightly into the first floor. It does not appear to have arisen from suspicious circumstances, though a State Fire Marshal’s Office investigator will inspect the scene on Monday to determine how it started, Brown said.

“It looked like it began right under the cellar stairs,” Brown said. “Whether it was a wood stove or electrical fire is what we hope to find out. The stove had been going earlier in the morning, and it hadn’t been tended to for a few hours. It might have been a spark that smoldered all day, but we hope to figure that out Monday morning.”

Firefighters received the 911 call on the fire at about 7:20 p.m. Friday, firefighters said. When they arrived, they saw smoke pouring from the cellar area and eventually saw that the flames did not extend far, if at all, into the first floor of the one-story structure, Brown said.

“My crew did an excellent job in terms of getting the fire stopped,” Brown said. “They had it knocked down within six or seven minutes of arrival. There were no burn-throughs or anything of that sort.”

Fire, smoke and water damage was heavy in the basement, with smoke damage on the first floor. Most if not all of the family’s furniture and other items appear salvageable, Brown said. Villalpando said the fire consumed almost all of his children’s clothes and winter coats in the basement — it was laundry day — and a new washer-dryer set.

The Villalpandos, who are not insured for fire, are staying at the Gateway Motel in Medway until Tuesday to help recover from the disaster, Adam Villalpando said.

“We are going to go on Monday, after the fire marshal clears it, and muck out the basement. We want to have an electrician rewire the basement,” Villalpando said, “and my kids will go stay with their grandfather for a couple of days while we put stuff back together.”

Anyone willing to help the Villalpandos recover from the fire can visit or drop donated items at the Public Safety Building, he said.

Having a fire in one’s own home is an extraordinary occurrence for a firefighter, and Villalpando said he suffered the same shock and anxiety anyone else would. He knew his daughter, 13-year-old Arianna, was home baking cookies at the time with his son Franky, but soon had his fears allayed.

“When we got there, all the kids were coming out the front door,” said Villalpando, who has worked for the town for about 3½ years.

Of the family’s two Shiba Inu dogs, Hannah, was outside with his children when Villalpando arrived, he said, but Hargie Abednego appeared to have gone into the basement when the fire began.

Fearing the worst, Villalpando went into the cellar to look for the dog and there was Hargie, appearing pleased to have escaped the flames.

“I don’t know how he did it with all the smoke and heat that was in the basement, but as soon as I opened the bulkhead door, he came running up,” Villalpando said. “Afterwards, we were driving to the Gateway and I said, ‘Honey, I honestly don’t know how he lived.’ She said, ‘Well, remember, his middle name is Abednego.’ ”

The name comes from the Book of Daniel, in which Abednego is one three people angels save from death in the fiery furnace.

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