June 21, 2018
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Services for four Orrington fire victims this weekend; spaghetti supper fundraiser planned

By Nick McCrea and Nok-Noi Ricker, BDN Staff

ORRINGTON, Maine — Ryan, Leslie and Benjamin Johnson IV had vivid imaginations. The three siblings often pretended to be “spies,” running around the house together with notebooks, tracking down clues.

Ryan, 4, loved hot dogs — and even considered them a good cold breakfast option. His favorite television shows were “Barney” and “Phineas and Ferb,” an animated Disney Channel series that follows a pair of brothers whose exploits annoy their controlling sister.

Leslie, 8, loved horses and wanted to be a trainer or jockey when she grew up. She tried to be a tomboy, but loved pink and often volunteered to help her mother in the kitchen. Her strong personality meant she often got in the last word.

Benjamin IV, 9, was a builder. He liked to watch his father use tools and, also like his father, enjoyed the bowling lanes. He looked forward to learning to golf with his father and grandfather. As the eldest sibling, Benjamin was protective of his younger brother and sister.

The children died in a fire Nov. 10 at the family’s home in Orrington that also claimed the life of their father, Ben Johnson III, who reportedly went back into the burning home in an attempt to save his children. Their obituaries were submitted to the Bangor Daily News on Thursday.

Friends of the family are invited to call from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday at the Brookings-Smith funeral home, 133 Center St. in Bangor. Relatives and friends are invited to gather from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday in the Lancaster Room of Hollywood Casino, Hotel and Raceway for refreshment and conversation, according to the obituaries.

The funerals will be at 2 p.m. Sunday. Interment ceremonies will be private.

Investigators determined the fire started because cardboard boxes were stored too close to the wood stove the family used to heat the home. A container of lighter fluid also was found near the stove and may have helped spread the fire. All four victims died from smoke inhalation, the state medical examiner’s office found. The children were found in an upstairs bedroom and their father at the top of the stairs.

Mother and wife Christine Johnson survived the blaze, escaping out a second-story window and onto the roof of a breezeway connecting the house to the garage. After his wife was outside, Ben Johnson III went back in for the children, according to his father, Ben Johnson II.

The community has thrown its support behind Christine Johnson, according officials and friends of the family.

“Christine was very moved by the support when I talked to her last night,” said Mike Marsh, who went bowling with Ben at Family Fun in Bangor in the hours before the fire and who is helping to organize a bowling fundraiser to be held at 1 p.m. Dec. 9. The event is being co-sponsored by Family Fun and Hollywood Casino.

“She is very grateful for the love and support she is getting and so amazed at how much love and support the bowling family is showing,” Marsh posted on a Facebook page announcing the fundraiser.

Marsh also said Hollywood Casino, where Ben Johnson III worked dealing cards, has made a personal donation to Christine Johnson.

The casino also joined the town of Orrington, East Orrington Congregational Church, Center Drive School and Sam’s Club to sponsor a spaghetti supper to help the Johnson family.

The supper will be from 4:30 to 7 p.m. Saturday at Center Drive School, 17 School St., Orrington. Admission is by donation. with attendees asked to give whatever they can to support the family, according to an announcement for the event.

Any donations that people want to do give directly to Christine Johnson may be made at any People’s United Bank branch, under the Johnson Family Fundraiser account.

The town also has been collecting clothing donations for Christine, according to Town Manager Paul White.

Orrington Fire and Rescue is offering a family fire safety class 6:15-7:30 p.m. on Nov. 20 in the cafeteria at Center Drive School, Shellie Tourtillotte, the fire department’s public educator, said in an announcement about the event.

“Kids, bring your grown-ups and grown-ups, bring your kids,” she said Wednesday. “We will talk about smoke detectors, planning and practicing an escape plan, heating appliance safety reminders and how to choose the best meeting place for your family.”

Fire Chief Mike Spencer said Wednesday that the tragic fire has created a heightened level of awareness, and people are calling for fire safety information.

“We have people calling the station right now, and they are saying we’re testing our smoke detectors by lighting a napkin underneath,” he said. “We thought: Let’s take these incredibly trained firemen and firewomen and let them help” educate residents.

“We decided if we can help one person, we should do it,” Spencer said. “It’s our community.”

The fire safety class will include a video done by the National Fire Protection Association that shows just how fast a fire can spread in a house, and the steps people can take to prepare for the worst, Spencer said.

Correction: In a previous version of the story, the time for the Hollywood Casino, Hotel and Raceway gathering was listed as 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The gathering actually ends one hour earlier, at 1 p.m.

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