WINN, Maine — A fire destroyed a one-family farmhouse Thursday when a pregnant woman frying chicken for her son’s 17th birthday left to chase a loose horse and the chicken started to burn.
Megan Plaisted, 42, of 83 Old Military Road said she had just finished baking an angel food cake for her son Dustin Zimmerman’s birthday party at their 1-acre farm when she saw Artec, a free-spirited Morgan horse, had escaped her barn shortly after 2 p.m.
Plaisted is due to give birth in November and had her 3-year-old son, Garrett Plaisted, with her, but she went right after the horse with visiting friend Crystal Twitchell, 19, of Mattawamkeag, she said.
“We must have chased Artec around the place eight times. She just wouldn’t get in the barn,” Twitchell said Thursday. “She was running circles around us.
“We chased her all around the place. She came up and down the road,” Plaisted said with tears in her eyes as she watched firefighters douse flames that were eating away at her home. “By the time we got her back into the barn, we turned around and saw smoke rolling.”
They raced in Twitchell’s car to neighbor Pat Cole’s house and Cole called 911 at about 2:50 p.m. When Plaisted and Twitchell returned a few minutes later, it was obvious that the farmhouse, which was built in 1886, was in trouble.
Penobscot County Regional Communications Center dispatchers sent Mattawamkeag firefighters, who cover Winn, to the fire. Mattawamkeag Fire Chief Robert Powers immediately radioed for Lincoln firefighters to respond because they were closer, he said.
When Lincoln arrived and confirmed the fire, Powers had Lee firefighters start their tanker truck toward Winn, and when Powers arrived, he called for more help from the Medway Fire Department, he said.
But it was too late.
“There was fire everywhere,” Powers said, “in the second floor, in the back room to the house. The kitchen was completely gutted. There was a set of stairs right there where the flames went upstairs.”
Firefighters tried to enter the house to the rear, but the speed of the flames burning into the roof, the antique wood and the limited manpower assembled made it fruitless, Powers said. The fire destroyed or heavily damaged everything the Plaisteds own.
“It’s a remodel job,” Powers said of the farmhouse. “You have 100 years of remodeling there. Cubby holes, hideaway areas, little nooks and crannies. Flames hide and hibernate in spaces like that and she’ll come out and bite you in the butt.”
Plaisted told firefighters that the home is insured and that she thought she had turned off the stove, Powers said. He said the fire seems accidental, but he will contact the State Fire Marshal’s Office to investigate, as is standard procedure.
Twitchell seemed to blame herself for the fire because she couldn’t catch the horse quickly enough.
“I’m not a horse person, I don’t have a farm,” Twitchell said, her voice anguished.
The fire devastated the Plaisteds, who have six children ages three to 19, and their friends. Homeowner Richard Plaisted was clearing brush at East Grand Lake in Danforth as a part-time worker for contractor Robert Fogg of Winn when he got word of the fire.
“I just put so much work into this place,” Plaisted said as he watched the house burn. He had remodeled the living room, installed arched doorways and rebuilt the barn for Artec, their two cows, and their several chickens, dogs and cats.
“Since our relationship started, we have gone from being homeless to having our own farm,” Megan Plaisted said.
Robert Fogg said he admired the Plaisteds for how they lived and how they were handling the fire. The Plaisteds are a good hardworking family, he said. The children are very intelligent and get good grades, he added.
The oldest, 19-year-old Forrest, just graduated from Lee Academy with honors and earned scholarships to attend Thomas College of Waterville, according to his father. He plans to study political science.
“It was the only college he applied for and he got right in,” his mother said proudly. “He says he will be president someday.”
Fogg said Richard Plaisted has taken to helping his wife raise the six children despite being at least a decade younger than her. He works odd jobs and rents 100 acres of a neighbor’s land for the farm animals.
“You can imagine the load he pulls,” Fogg said. “Kids today won’t even take out the trash and he’s out there working hard every day. And when I show up to pick him up for work this morning, the kids were all out there in the barn doing their chores without any complaints.”
People have already started to help the Plaisteds. Steve Geno, a bus driver for SAD 30, arranged for the Plaisteds to stay at a Lee Academy dorm or house, while Fogg offered to collect donated items for the family.
“My goal for now is to keep them housed and fed,” Fogg said.
Anyone interested in donating items or otherwise helping the Plaisteds may call Fogg at 355-5166.