Fire’s aftermath changes South Thomaston woman’s retirement plans

Audrey Buffington recalls the fire that destroyed her South Thomaston home on March 15, 2012.
Audrey Buffington recalls the fire that destroyed her South Thomaston home on March 15, 2012. Buy Photo
Posted May 15, 2012, at 4:26 p.m.
Last modified May 15, 2012, at 6:33 p.m.
A fast-moving fire destroyed Audrey Buffington's house and garage March 15, 2012 in South Thomaston.
Lt. Mike Root, Owls Head Fire Department
A fast-moving fire destroyed Audrey Buffington's house and garage March 15, 2012 in South Thomaston.

SOUTH THOMASTON, Maine — The smoke smell still lingered Tuesday as a contractor continued to remove the rubble from a fire that two months ago destroyed Audrey Buffington’s dream home.

Buffington bought the home on Snowdeal Lane along the waters of Snowdeal Cove in 1995. She had retired from a career in education in Maryland and textbook publishing in Massachusetts.

The veteran educator said she had no intention of becoming involved in schools in her new home community, but then one day she was reading the local newspaper and saw a story about poor test scores.

“I knew I had to do something,” Buffington said.

That something involved volunteering to work with teachers and students, mainly in her speciality of math. She later served for many years on the SAD 5 board including two years as its chairman before she resigned in 2007.

Buffington continued to attend school board meetings, including after SADs 5 and 50 combined to form Regional School Unit 13.

But her appearances before the board are near an end. Buffington said she has given up on a plan to rebuild her 3,300-square-foot home here and instead will move to Tennessee to live closer to her daughter, grandson and two great-grandchildren.

The fire was a traumatic event, the 80-year-old Buffington said.

She was home sitting at a computer and talking on the telephone on March 15 when she heard a single loud boom coming from the garage. The garage is attached to the home through a breezeway.

“I opened the door to the garage and the smoke was so black and so dense, I couldn’t see anything inside,” Buffington said.

She attempted to dial 911 from her telephone but the line for the phone she had was dead. In the frenzy of trying to call for help, she also tried phones in the kitchen and bedroom before realizing the line to the house was out of service from the fire. She eventually found a cellphone and reached an emergency dispatcher in Augusta.

By the time the fire crews arrived several minutes later the fire had become so intense that the garage collapsed. Her new car and that of her friend Ken Russell were in the garage and destroyed.

The fire also destroyed the loft of the garage where she stored 3,000 antique books and where Russell kept a collection of wood carvings that he had produced over his life.

The fire quickly spread to the house, destroying decades of collectibles she had amassed and all of her family photographs. A painting she had of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig and Eddie Rickenbacker signed by all of them also was destroyed in the fire.

The volunteer fire department managed to rescue 60 paintings she had stored in the basement of the house. A collection of the Bobbsey Twins books also escaped the flames although they now smell of smoke.

Buffington said she planned to rebuild but changed her mind when she looked into replacing appliances for the home. The manuals for the appliances that were lost in the fire survived the flames, so she could know what models she had, she said. But when she went to the appliance store, she had to make decisions on new models.

“I then realized there would be too many decisions to make,” Buffington said.

For a little more than two weeks, she and Russell stayed at the Trade Winds Motor Inn in Rockland and on April 1 she rented a home in Thomaston. During the two weeks at the Trade Winds, their dining consisted of food from McDonald’s, KFC and Domino’s.

No cause for the fire could be determined because of the intensity of the flames. Buffington said many people have given her theories but she added that such information offers no help to her.

“I don’t want to relive it again and again. Just say you’re sorry for what happened and offer help,” she said.

She said thus far, her insurance company has been helpful.

Buffington has not given up her passion for education even as she prepares to leave Maine and travel to Tennessee this weekend to look at houses.

Buffington said she was going to be nominated to the Maine Board of Education when the fire occurred and she has since informed the governor’s office she would not be able to serve. The veteran educator said she has concerns about the state of education, voicing particular criticism about the standards-based education being touted in the state. She said teachers need better training and parents need to be more involved in the education of their children.

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