MORRILL, Maine — The family members that were crowded into a cluttered trailer on Hartshorn Road late Thursday afternoon held their dogs close and their love for each other even closer.
Betsy LeSan, 27, recounted how the trailer she lived in with her two aunts and great aunt had caught fire late Wednesday morning when a circuit breaker malfunctioned.
They lost a dog, two cats, a macaw, two rabbits, two ferrets and four chinchillas in the blaze, along with all their possessions, but all the people were able to make it outside to safety. For that, the whole close-knit clan is grateful.
“I thank God that it didn’t happen at night. I thank God that we all got out,” LeSan said. “Clothes, material things can be replaced. We can’t be replaced.”
The fire moved fast, according to Morrill Fire Chief Pat Scribner.
“There was heavy black smoke when we arrived. It quickly erupted into flames from the back end of the trailer,” he said.
More than 20 volunteer firefighters from the neighboring towns of Belmont, Waldo, Belfast and Searsmont worked at the scene. They extinguished the fire in about two hours and were able to keep the trailer next door from catching fire.
That is where LeSan’s mother, Patricia LeSan, lives with three other people. It’s a home without running water, heat or electricity. But she still opened the doors wide to her daughter, her sisters Becky Nibby, 50, Pamela Nibby, 46, and aunt Eleanor Hartshorn, 79. Last night they slept on beds, couches and the floor.
“We may not have a lot, but we have love and we have each other,” Betsy LeSan said.
The women said that their neighbors in Morrill have been incredibly generous. Outside the trailer, a noisy generator provided electricity and two green portable toilets stood next to the front door. They had been delivered with the help of community members.
“This is a wonderful town,” Becky Nibby said. “I don’t know how we can ever, ever thank them enough.”
That’s not all the community has done. Lori Littlefield has been organizing relief efforts for the homeless family.
“They’re really good people,” she said of the Nibby clan. “If they had anything, they would give it. They’re just that type.”
She said that the family had no insurance for the trailer.
“They got out with the shirts on their backs, and that’s it,” Littlefield said.
So she and other community members got to work, with the help of the Red Cross. By Thursday afternoon there were bags of clothes for the burned-out women. Littlefield popped by the crowded trailer for a moment to drop off pet food that had been donated for the surviving dogs, cats, goats, pony, birds and even a turtle.
“You should be getting a hot meal, too,” she said to the family. “Has that come yet? Well, I’m sure it will soon.”
Another relative came from Searsport to drop off gallons of fresh water and to give a little support in a tough time.
“That’s what family is supposed to do,” Cora Prentice said. “Help each other out in hard times.”
Times have been hard for the family even before the fire, they said. Most of them survive thanks to the Social Security disability checks they receive. Hartshorn had heart surgery a few weeks ago and was taken to Bangor by LifeFlight helicopter. Although the family had prepared to say goodbye to their Aunt Ellie, she made it through and was up and walking by the time the fire ripped through the trailer.
It’s the second time she has been burned out of a home in her lifetime. The family farmhouse caught fire years ago.
“We come from strong stock,” Hartshorn said from the chair where she held on to a lapdog.
Scribner said the community is working hard to get the family up and running. He said that when an Ohio machine company he works with heard about the fire, officials were generous, making a financial donation for the family.
“Every little bit helps,” Scribner said. “Because we’re trying to coordinate right now to put another trailer in place, that money will be significant in purchasing another one.”
Littlefield is hoping that someone might be able to help get the family a trailer.
When they have a place to stay, they’ll be able to have a home again, and space for their surviving animals. A local animal shelter is taking care of four of their dogs until they’re able to do so themselves.
Betsy LeSan said that their animals mostly were rescued from difficult situations.
“We consider our pets just as much family as each other,” she said.
They’re mourning the loss of their beagle, who panicked and went back into the house Wednesday during the fire. They’re gladdened by their “miracle kitten,” Abby, who wasn’t breathing when firefighters tossed it outside but managed to revive in the fresh air. And they’re relieved that the turtle, who remained inside its blackened aquarium during the fire, also survived.
Littlefield said that the response to the family’s plight has been “wonderful.”
“People are definitely wanting to help,” she said. “Our community is very tight-knit. People who know them know that times were never easy to begin with.”
Donations to help the Nibby family are being accepted at the Morrill General Store and also may be sent to the Morrill Fire Department Ladies Auxiliary, P.O. Box 112, Morrill, ME 04952.