LISBON, Maine — Several factors may have contributed to the death of a Lisbon man late Sunday when his home caught fire and burned into the early morning Monday, Lisbon Fire Chief Sean Galipeau said.
Richard A. Davis, 41, was able to call 911 at 11:53 p.m. but was unable to escape his mobile home at 5 Larry Drive, which is off Pinewoods Drive, according to Galipeau. Davis’ body was found in his bedroom. Galipeau said Davis died of smoke inhalation.
“The last we heard [from Davis] was that our dispatcher advised us that he told the occupant to actually exit the building,” said Galipeau Monday morning at the scene of the fire, which is part of a mobile home park. “Then the phone either hung up or went dead.”
Galipeau said he arrived a few minutes later to find the rear of the mobile home already consumed in flames and the rest of the home laden in thick, black smoke. The flames were so intense that firefighters from Lisbon, Lewiston, Durham and Topsham were forced to fight the blaze from outside for more than an hour before they could enter.
“I was pretty much certain that he was inside,” said Galipeau. “His primary mode of transportation, his bicycle, was leaned up against the house. We did know that he was not employed so there was no reason to believe he wasn’t there.”
Galipeau said Davis obtained 50 gallons of heating oil from the town’s general assistance fund at the beginning of last week, but the oil had apparently run out. Davis was using a space heater and an electric blanket to stay warm.
Galipeau said Davis’s pipes were frozen and that he might have been in the process of trying to thaw them. Davis also smoked cigarettes.
“With those factors and the amount of damage, it’s going to be deemed an undeterminable cause,” said the chief. “It’s not suspicious.”
A team of three fire marshal investigators were at the burned home Monday morning attempting to pinpoint the cause of the fire but left after determining that the damage was too severe. Galipeau said the fire likely started in a utility closet or in a nearby bathroom.
Davis also did not have any working smoke detectors. Last year, after a tragic fire on nearby Summer Street that claimed the lives of two young girls, members of the Lisbon Fire Department teamed up with an organization called Safe Kids USA to provide as many smoke detectors to Lisbon residents as possible — including in Davis’ neighborhood.
“He wasn’t home so basically we left a calling card and he failed to call us so that we could come and actually install a smoke detector,” said Galipeau. “This may or may not have been averted.”
Galipeau said Davis was a “collector” and had his home full of various materials, which could have been another contributor to his death.
“There was a lot of stuff in his trailer. With that, people have to understand that when you collect things, that’s fire load,” said Galipeau. “When fire starts to go it’s going to consume all of that fire load and that may hinder your process of getting out.”
But Davis’ biggest mistake may have been calling 911 instead of fleeing his burning home.
“The lesson is get out of the building. You can make that 911 call definitely outside the building,” said Galipeau. “There was also a cat involved and he may have returned to get the cat. If you leave a door open, typically pets will make their way out of the building. Taking the time to do that or gather your things, typically you won’t have enough time.”
According to Sue Adams, who lives across the street from Davis, he was a good neighbor and a good friend who struggled to make financial ends meet. As a recipient of Social Security disability income, he lived on just $700 a month, said Adams. Davis’s mother died in 2004 and his father died in September 2011. Davis was deeply religious and in the past year or so had gone with her to weekly services at the First United Pentecostal Church in Lewiston.
“He found a place to be,” said Adams. “He loves music. He loves Jesus. He was by himself and his cat was his life.”
Davis was very kind to Adams’ grandson, who often went to Davis’ house to play a drum set. Davis also taught the boy how to swim. Davis was going to help Adams move some of her belongings to a new residence Monday morning.
“He would give you the shirt off his back,” she said. “He was like a brother to me. I don’t think it’s sunk in yet that he’s gone.”
This is the first fire death in Maine in 2012, according to a press release from Department of Public Safety Spokesman Steve McCausland.