MILLINOCKET, Maine — Firefighters battled thick smoke to rescue two cats and a dog from a fire that damaged the cellar and living room of an Aroostook Avenue house Sunday morning.
Firefighters had to stop homeowner Thomas Jameson from going back into his house at 423 Aroostook Ave. to retrieve his pets after he had rescued a dog and a cat, Fire Chief Andrew Turcotte said.
With flames burning into the cellar ceiling and first-floor living room and smoke thick throughout the rest of the house, Turcotte went inside and found a dog and a cat and Firefighter-EMT Sam Monteith rescued a cat, Turcotte said.
“It was the funniest thing,” Turcotte said. “The cat I found was just lying there, unresponsive, and I thought it was dead. I shook it a little bit and it came right alive. It hissed and clawed at me. I was thinking, ‘Oh my goodness.’”
Firefighters have pet-sized breathing masks to help resuscitate pets, but didn’t need to use them on the animals. Jameson, however, was treated for smoke inhalation at Millinocket Regional Hospital after refusing treatment at the scene, Assistant Fire Chief Thomas Malcolm said.
The fire apparently started in an ash box in the basement directly beneath Jameson’s living room fireplace. The ash box is large, approximately 16 inches across and about two feet deep, and embedded in cement, but was piled high with ash because it hadn’t been cleaned in a while, Turcotte said.
“It appears there was quite a bit of hot ash in there,” he said.
Ash that fell to the box from a fireplace fire the family started the night before apparently ignited thick building timbers hanging over the ash box. Turcotte said the timbers might also have ignited because they were badly dried out after decades of exposure to ash box heat.
Turcotte smelled smoke at about 8:55 a.m. and either he or a neighbor called 911. When firefighters arrived about five minutes later, heavy black smoke was pouring from the front door, Turcotte said.
Thick basement smoke and intense heat made finding the seat of the fire difficult, but firefighters doused the flames before they could spread very far into the living room area, Turcotte said.
East Millinocket firefighters were called immediately to the scene because Millinocket is down one engine, and they assisted in fighting the flames, Turcotte said. The flames might have eaten into the first floor and become uncontrollable had the fire burned much longer.
“They did a really good quick stop,” Malcolm said. The fire “could have gone right up the chimney chase but it didn’t. They saved a lot with the initial knockdown.”
The Jameson family won’t be able to occupy the house until repairs are made. Damage estimates run from $30,000 to $40,000.
The fire is Millinocket’s second in about a month. A malfunctioning space heater sparked a fire that destroyed most of a second-floor apartment on Katahdin Avenue on Nov. 28.
Sunday’s fire, Turcotte said, underlined the importance of keeping fireplaces clear of ash buildup. He encouraged homeowners to have their chimneys and fire boxes cleaned professionally or at least emptied.