Fire damages ‘Houston Corner’ home in Topsham

Posted Aug. 01, 2012, at 5:08 p.m.
Last modified Aug. 01, 2012, at 5:28 p.m.

TOPSHAM, Maine — Firefighters from several local fire departments rushed to the scene of a structure fire Tuesday night that damaged a home at 683 River Road.

The owner, John Houston, 81, wasn’t home when the fire started. Firefighters told him after quickly knocking down the flames they think it started in the living room. Everything was off, he said, unless he left a small fan on. His daughter and son-in-law who live next door discovered the fire and dialed 911.

“It’s a shocker, I’ll tell you,” Houston said.

Houston was at an old car show in Dresden with his ’26 Model-T Roadster Pickup and saw an ambulance on his way home and wondered where it was going. He saw smoke as he neared home and still didn’t think it was his home. The Topsham Fire Department was dispatched at 6:58 p.m. Houston arrived at about 7:20 p.m. to find his house on fire.

Later Tuesday night, Houston was antsy to get into the house just to see the extent of the damage, and planned to stay the night with his daughter next door. He also owns a neighboring home and one across the street, joking the area is known as Houston Corner. He has plenty of family members nearby to take him in.

“I have a lot of pictures in the living room,” Houston said. “I imagine they are all gone. I bet I have 75 pictures in there lined up and on the walls.”

Houston added he was already planning to replace his front window, which was damaged by the fire, and he told his carpenter who was on scene Tuesday that he would definitely be replacing the window now. Standing in the driveway facing his home crawling with firefighters, he said, “This is a revolting development, I’ll tell you.” He figured the reality would finally hit him around midnight.

Topsham Fire Chief Brian Stockdale said Brunswick, Lisbon, Freeport and West Bath fire departments responded to the fire scene, which was outside the hydrant district. Bowdoin and Bowdoinham fire departments provided station coverage.

“I appreciate all these fire departments, my God,” Houston said. “So many people showed up. … It’s something, the way they responded.”

“I never expected anything like this, my gosh,” Houston said.

Houston said he built the original house nearly 60 years ago, and has added the porch and sunroom over the years. He lives there alone now since his wife passed away nine years ago. He has insurance and an agent from Riley Insurance Agency was already on scene Tuesday.

Stockdale said the living room where the fire started sustained heavy fire damage and the rest of the house sustained high heat and smoke damage. After the initial attack to knock down flames, there was an extensive overhaul. Firefighters checked for any extension of fire such as at the edge of the roof.

The town’s online assessing database has the home listed as being built in 1956 with a living area of 1,638 square feet and a building value of $121,200. A crew planned to board up the house when firefighters were done on scene before rain came.

Stockdale said Wednesday that officially the cause of the fire is undetermined, but fire investigators believe it is accidental.

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