April 24, 2018
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Fire leaves Houlton family of 6 homeless, kills numerous animals

Joseph Cyr | Houlton Pioneer Times
Joseph Cyr | Houlton Pioneer Times
Houlton firefighter Mike Beals grimaces from the heat as he tries to extinguish the flames at a fire on Abbie Lane on Dec. 14. Firefighters were unable to save the home of Woodrow and Janet Drake. Several animals perished in the fire.
By Joseph Cyr, Houlton Pioneer Times

HOULTON, Maine — A local family of six was left homeless after a Dec. 14 fire that destroyed their home and killed several animals

Houlton firefighters were called to the Abbie Lane home of Woodrow “Woody” Drake at 1:22 p.m. for a reported structure fire. One of the dwelling occupants, Clyde Geary, reported the fire when he arrived at the home. Though no one was home at the time, Geary did not know that then.

“The caller was unsure if anyone was inside the building when the fire was reported,” said Houlton Fire Chief Milton Cone. “Mr. Geary had entered the structure a couple of times before we arrived in order to search and make sure nobody was home. When we arrived on scene, we saw heavy smoke pouring from the windows.”

Four adults (Woody and Janet Drake, Kim Drake and Clyde Geary), as well as two children (Sam and Matthew Geary) lived at the residence. Since the fire, all six family members have been staying at a friend’s house on Drews Lake.

Several animals perished in the fire, including two parrots, two doves, two cockatiels, a lizard, two goats, a cat, as well as numerous pheasants and turkeys in the barn. Many more were spared, thanks to the quick actions of firefighters and friends who got 10 horses, a llama, a goat, a sheep, a rabbit, two dogs and a cat out of harm’s way.

The house, including all the family’s belongings and Christmas presents, were destroyed in the blaze. An attached barn and stable area also was consumed by fire. The family did not have insurance.

Cone said he believes the fire originated in a room containing a pellet stove, but the exact cause of the fire was impossible to determine.

“The construction of the house, combined with the heavy, black smoke, made it difficult to locate the ignition source,” Cone said. “Because of the start that it got, and the construction of the house, we were not successful in our attempts to extinguish.”

Twenty-six firefighters responded to the blaze with the Houlton Fire Department’s pumper, pumper-tanker, ladder truck and tanker. A call for mutual aid to Hodgdon and Linneus was also sent out, and both departments responded with tanker trucks.

Because no fire hydrants are near the home, getting water to the scene required constantly rotating the three tanker trucks.

The state’s fire marshal was not called to investigate because of the massive amount of damage and the fact that the building was a total loss, Cone said. No injuries were reported in the fire.

On Tuesday, Kim Drake said she was overwhelmed by the amount of support the community has shown in stepping forward to help.

“The support has been awesome,” Drake said. “The night of the fire, people I didn’t even know were helping to lead animals to our friend Kim Williams’ home. There was a massive amount of people helping out that night.”

Because the family lost all of their belongings, as well as the Christmas presents she had bought for the two children, many people have come forward to assist, she said. Several bags of items have been dropped off at the Houlton Fire Department for the family. In addition, the Red Cross provided a clothing allotment so they could get items to wear.

Drake said her son Matthew, who is 9 years old, was taking the loss the hardest.

“Matt has spina bifida and been through a couple of back surgeries,” she said. “He had numerous stuffed animals that he was given while in the hospital. And he also lost his cat, so he took it really hard.”

Ironically, Drake was at the Houlton Fire Department at the time the fire was reported since she was setting up a Christmas party for the Aroostook Riding Club.

The Drake’s dog, Fargo, had a rough weekend. After being rescued from the burning building on Friday, Fargo, an Aussie breed of dog, had to be rescued Sunday afternoon, after he fell through the ice on Drews Lake. Clyde Geary and George Brown rescued the dog by putting a canoe onto the ice and inching their way toward the dog before pulling him into the boat.

“Fargo did not take the move very well,” Drake said. “He was abused as puppy when we got him nine years ago in New York. He kept trying to take off, and made his way onto the ice when he fell in. Thankfully, they were able to save him, and he seems to be much better now.”

The Drakes have received monetary donations as well as many household items, but instead of spending that money on replacement Christmas presents, they decided to place that money into a savings account to be used for rebuilding their home on Abbie Lane.

“It’s not going to be a Christmas like they are used to, but they are really appreciative of what they do have,” Drake said. “I just want to extend my sincere thanks to everyone who has come forward to help. There were people I have never met before who have offered to help, and that is just amazing.”

Anyone who would like to donate items should contact Heather Campbell McCarthy at hcamp21@mfx.net. Donations can also be mailed to the Drake family at P.O. Box 93, Houlton, ME, 04730.

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