Orrington fire kills man, 3 children in family

Authorities respond to a fire on Dow Road in Orrington on Saturday.
Authorities respond to a fire on Dow Road in Orrington on Saturday.
Posted Nov. 10, 2012, at 9:34 a.m.
Last modified Nov. 11, 2012, at 8:34 a.m.
Authorities respond to a fire on Dow Road in Orrington on Saturday.
Authorities respond to a fire on Dow Road in Orrington on Saturday.
Orrington Fire Chief Mike Spencer talks with media at the scene of a fire on Dow Road in Orrington on Saturday.
Orrington Fire Chief Mike Spencer talks with media at the scene of a fire on Dow Road in Orrington on Saturday.

ORRINGTON, Maine — Investigators from the state fire marshal’s office are at the scene of an early morning house fire Saturday that claimed the lives of an Orrington man and three of his children, ages 4 to 9.

The people who died in the fire at 580 Dow Road have been identified as 30-year-old Ben Johnson III, his sons Ben, 9, and Ryan, 4, and 8-year-old daughter, Leslie, state public safety officials said Saturday afternoon.

The sole survivor of the fire was wife and mother Christine Johnson, 31, who was rescued from the roof of the house by neighbors and firefighters, Maine Department of Public Safety spokesman Stephen McCausland said Saturday.

She was taken to Eastern Maine Medical Center for smoke inhalation. Further information about her medical condition was not available as of Saturday evening.

According to McCausland, the family had moved into the two-story beige saltbox-style house from Bangor about six months ago. He said Ben Johnson worked at Hollywood Casino in Bangor and Christine Johnson is an author who worked out of the house.

The origin and cause of the fire had yet to be determined as of midafternoon Saturday, McCausland said.

The fire was reported at 2:38 a.m. by neighbors who heard a woman screaming, McCausland said. He said that that the bodies of Johnson and the three children were found a short time after firefighters entered the burning house.

Orrington Fire Chief Mike Spencer said shortly after entering the house, firefighters were forced to withdraw because conditions became unsafe. Orrington fire crews were assisted by their colleagues from Brewer, Eddington, Holden, Bucksport and Bangor.

Superintendent Allan Snell confirmed that Orrington school officials were told of the tragedy early Saturday morning.

Teachers and school administrators from Center Drive School, where the younger Ben Johnson was in fourth grade and his sister, Leslie Johnson, was a third grader, were being notified Saturday by email and a calling tree, Snell said.

“They were both great kids, very nice kids,” Center Drive School Principal Roy Allen said early Saturday afternoon. “This is just such a tragedy. It’s going to be devastating for the kids because it’s such a small school and everybody knows everybody.”

Snell and Allen said that the school already is seeing an outpouring of support, both from the community and nearby school units that have offered to provide assistance with grief counseling and any other services that are needed. Snell said local fire officials also have offered to be at the school if they are needed.

Despite Veterans Day observances on Monday, Snell and Allen said the school will be open from noon to 3 p.m. Monday for anyone who wants to come in and reflect. One or more counselors will be on hand during those hours, they said.

The Orrington school officials also said that a crisis team is being mobilized for Tuesday, when classes resume.

Damage to the house the house was extensive, McCausland noted. He said more than a dozen fire investigators and Maine State Police detectives would be at the scene Saturday and Sunday in an effort to pinpoint the fire’s origin and cause.

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