HOULTON, Maine — A Houlton family was left homeless Friday after an early morning fire destroyed the home they were renting.
Jocelyn Howe, her two children and brother Shawn were able to get out of the house at 52 River Street before reporting the fire at 5:08 a.m., according to Houlton Fire Chief Milton Cone.
“The fire was discovered by Jocelyn around 5 a.m.,” Cone said, adding that it originated in a breezeway connecting the home and garage. “There were some hats and mittens close to a wood stove — which was located in the breezeway — that were drying out. Those items caught on fire, which caught the adjacent wall on fire.”
The fire chief said the Howe’s tried to extinguish the flames themselves, but quickly discovered it was spreading throughout the house. The family safely exited the home and called the fire department.
“When the first trucks arrived on scene, fire was rolling out of the door and downstairs windows and up the side of the house,” Cone said.
Bitterly cold temperatures, about 18 degrees below zero Fahrenheit when the fire was first reported, complicated the firefighting efforts of the 23 men who responded, according to Cone. Heavy smoke resulting in zero visibility also made fighting the fire difficult.
The sub-zero temperatures had firefighters wary of frostbite and caused some of the men’s breathing apparatus to freeze up, the chief said, but no injuries were reported.
“We had the ambulance on scene and were rotating firefighters inside to try to keep them as warm as possible,” Cone said.
The fire did not spread to any of the adjacent dwellings or vehicles. Cone attributed that to the asbestos siding on the outside of the burning structure, which kept much of the heat inside.
Firefighters thought they had the blaze contained at one point, but it spread into the attic and continued throughout the house. The dwelling was declared a total loss. By 9 a.m., only a handful of firefighters remained on scene to monitor the situation.
Cone said the American Red Cross outreach office in Presque Isle was contacted to assist the family.
Andrew and Melissa Marshall, who reside in Virginia, own the property, which was listed for sale. According to property tax records, the building and property were assessed at $62,300. Cone said that Howe did not have rental insurance. He was uncertain if the Marshall’s had homeowners insurance for the dwelling.