KNOX, Maine — The gray smoke that billowed over the greening fields of Knox could be seen for miles Monday afternoon as firefighters from at least eight surrounding communities worked to keep a fire that consumed a 19th century home from spreading.
The fire is believed to have killed a dog and three cats in the home; to have caused several tanks of oxygen, propane and acetylene fuel to explode; and to have jumped Route 137 and sparked a grass fire across the way. But all the people in Bill and Jackie Bryant’s home were able to escape — though not with much more than the clothes on their backs, 62-year-old Jackie Bryant said.
Bryant said she had been in the kitchen with her 7-year-old grandson when her husband spotted smoke coming from the garage about 2:30 p.m. while he was coming back from a nearby store where he had gone to fill up an oxygen tank.
“He told me to call the Fire Department and move the car,” she said while sitting on a snowmobile in her yard, watching as the fire destroyed her house.
After moving the car, she tried to dart back into the home to grab her purse and her medicine. But it was too late — the intense heat and smoke pushed her away.
She and her family and friends gathered near the barn to watch as the fire consumed the garage, the house, a bucket tractor, tools and all their other possessions inside. Bill Bryant had just stored 25 cords of firewood in the garage, she said, along with a cow they had just butchered.
“All that is gone,” Jackie Bryant said. “We’re safe, that’s the important thing … I know the value of family over possessions. They’re replaceable. Family’s not.”
Dozens of firefighters from communities including Montville, Freedom, Thorndike, Unity, Troy and Morrill were at the scene, and traffic on Route 137 was rerouted for at least an hour.
Efforts to contact the chief in charge were not successful late Monday afternoon.
The Bryants said they did not know what caused the fire but expected the Maine fire marshal to check out the house later Monday or early Tuesday.
Jackie Bryant said the solid wooden house had been a stop on the Waterville-Belfast stagecoach route and that she and her husband had fixed it up nicely. It had some original features and antiques including two valuable grandfather clocks.
“A lot of history,” she said. “We have insurance, but it will never replace that house.”
The Bryants have a lot of family in the area, they said, and were figuring out what they’d do next. The couple had talked about fixing up a spot in the barn to sleep in but changed their minds Monday when their niece and nephew offered them the use of a camper for a while.
The two horses in their barn were fine, Jackie Bryant said.
“I feel bad for the house. Such a beautiful house to be lost,” she said. “And I’m kind of old to be starting over.”