MILLINOCKET, Maine — A local man died when fire destroyed his Elm Street home in the predawn hours of Thursday despite four people’s efforts to save him.
Investigators with the state fire marshal’s office said they believe the deceased man is Michael Olin, 55, of 136 Elm St. Official identification will be made after an examination by the state medical examiner’s office in Augusta, according to Maine Department of Public Safety spokesman Stephen McCausland.
The body was found near the front door, and investigators suspect the victim was trying to escape the flames when he was overcome. The house was destroyed, and investigators are attempting to determine how the fire started. There was no sign of any working smoke detectors in the house, McCausland said.
Newspaper carrier Danica Clogston, Millinocket police Officer Gary Lakeman, East Millinocket police Officer Kevin Ingersoll and a nearby resident awakened by the fire all tried to rescue or alert Olin by banging on windows or shouting.
Clogston was the first to call 911, at about 3:45 a.m., said Sgt. Scott Richardson of the state fire marshal’s office.
Clogston, who delivers the Bangor Daily News and lives down the street from Olin, said she felt “horrible that the guy did die, and I kind of feel ashamed because I should have noticed the smoke in the air earlier and I didn’t.”
“I am disappointed and so sad because he died,” said a nearby resident who asked to be identified only as Diane.
She was distraught and said she blamed herself for not being able to rescue Olin, whom she did not know.
“I feel a lot of guilt. I just keep visualizing all this horrible stuff in my head,” she added. “I remember yelling, ‘Wake up, wake up, wake up,’ and telling the dispatcher, ‘I can’t wake him up.’”
Neighbor Erika Dash said the light of the flames was so bright that it came through her shut bedroom window blinds. She said her husband, Jerry Potvin, woke her when he saw the glow from the window.
“The windows [of Olin’s house] blew out, and [Diane] ran around the house to the other windows and could not get his attention. Then the fire engulfed the house,” Dash said. “It was too late for us to try to run over and get him out.”
Dash later visited Diane in her home and consoled her. The two met for the first time a few hours after the fire, Dash said.
“I think it’s very normal, what she’s going through, although she couldn’t possibly have saved him,” Dash said. “I feel the same way myself. I feel if I had awoken a half hour earlier, maybe I could have done something.”
People who gathered at the house declined to comment on Thursday afternoon.
The fire apparently started near a woodstove in the rear of the one-story residence and spread forward, but it wasn’t yet clear whether the stove caused the fire.
When the first firefighters arrived, flames were shooting from the roof and several windows, said Steve Kenyon, Millinocket’s Public Safety Department director.
Firefighters from East Millinocket and Medway assisted Millinocket. Investigators hope to determine the cause of the fire in the next several days. Anyone who might have information about what happened is asked to call 626-3870.
Olin was a carpenter who helped Potvin and Dash build a swinging bench that is hanging from a tree in the front yard, Dash said.
“He was a very kind, very sweet man, always waving, always happy. He was a great neighbor,” Dash said. “He loved to help people.”
“He was one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet,” Potvin said.
This is the sixth fire death in Maine this year, McCausland said.
Diane, who moved to Millinocket about two months ago after living in Connecticut for many years, said she is curious about Olin.
“I am sorry for his family. I really am,” Diane said. “I wish I could have done more.”