STOCKTON SPRINGS, Maine — Last Thursday morning, a fast-moving chimney fire destroyed the third-oldest building in Stockton Springs and threatened the lives of the 10 people who were there at the time.
But even though his family home has been declared a total loss, after being inundated by an outpouring of help from the community, Mike Ellis just wants people to know one thing — how “utterly thankful” he and other family members are for the support they received after the destructive fire.
“The community has been absolutely amazing,” Judith Stover, a relative of the Ellis family who did not live in the old Main Street farmhouse, said Tuesday. “They hadn’t even finished getting the fire out of control before people started showing up with donations, diapers, bottles, shoes, hats, gloves. [The family is] both grateful and overwhelmed by the generosity.”
Mike and Beth Ellis lived in an apartment that had been built in the attached garage, with the main house occupied by family matriarch Marsha Ellis; Mike Ellis’ son Jon Ellis and his girlfriend, Katie Brown; Beth Ellis’ daughter, Autumn Milliken, and her baby, Aiden. Also visiting that night were Mike Ellis’ small grandson, and Beth Ellis’ daughter and her boyfriend.
In the early morning, Mike Ellis had woken up and filled the wood stove in the kitchen. Just a few minutes later, baby Aiden, who was sleeping with his mother because he’d been cranky the previous night, woke up coughing in their second-floor bedroom.
“Autumn [Milliken] woke up to him coughing and having a hard time breathing,” Stover recounted. “She realized her room was filled with smoke.”
Mike Ellis’s young grandson was sleeping in the same room on a mattress on the floor, and the smoke was already so thick Milliken had a hard time finding him.
“She finally found him, got down the stairs and was able to wake everybody up,” Stover said.
Firefighters received the call at 6:45 a.m., according to Assistant Chief Vern Thompson of the Stockton Springs Volunteer Fire Department. He said that between 25 and 30 people worked for more than four hours to extinguish the fire. That crew included Mike Ellis, who is a longtime volunteer firefighter in Stockton Springs and other Ellis relatives.
“They were trying to save their own house,” she said.
The old wooden house was equipped with working smoke detectors, Stover said, but officials believe that the chimney caught fire in the attic and moved fast. Despite efforts of the firefighters, the home that had been in the Ellis family for six generations burned quickly.
“It’s quite emotional for them,” Stover said. “They lost generations and generations of mementos in there.”
Some of the toughest losses include objects that had belonged to homeowner Gene Ellis’ brother, who was killed in the Vietnam War.
“It’s been quite devastating for them,” she said. “Not much is salvageable from the second story.”
The garage apartment was saved, she said.
Since the fire, the insurance company has declared it a total loss, and the family plans to rebuild on the same property. For now, the residents have been staying at the Comfort Inn in Belfast, thanks to the American Red Cross and the insurance companies. They’ll be looking at renting something until they’re able to rebuild, Stover said.
People from the community have opened their hearts and pocketbooks to the Ellis family, donating all kinds of baby things, clothing and much more to them, she said.
“The baby is definitely set. He definitely has enough clothes to last him until he grows out of them,” she said. “He’s the little hero. He should have everything he needs.”
Stover said that she expects the Ellis family will discover they need day-to-day things like food, kitchen supplies and toiletries once they get into a rental property. But for this week, they’re just grateful all the people, dogs and cats made it out safely, and that they live in a place where the community wants to take care of its own.
“The biggest message the family wants to say is `Thank you,’” Stover said. “The fact that people who don’t even know them were willing to donate and give of their time and resources — it’s amazing.”
Anyone wanting to help the Ellis family after the fire may get in touch with Judith Stover at 930-5173 or write the Ellis Family, c/o Judith Stover, P.O. Box 395, Stockton Springs, ME 04981.