SPRINGFIELD, Maine — A retired military contractor and a Lee Academy teacher were left homeless when a wind-driven fire destroyed a house at a small farm on Main Street early Tuesday. No one was injured, firefighters said.
The fire appeared to start in or near a shed and moved rapidly to engulf a two-story home, an enclosure over an in-ground pool, two or three tractors, a camper and some woods at 1097 Main St. Firefighters saved a garage and small barn housing livestock on the sprawling homestead, Springfield Volunteer Fire Chief James White said.
“There were several other buildings that we saved on the outside that had some geese and ducks in them, but the pool and the building housing the pool were completely engulfed and it was halfway into the house when we first got there,” White said Tuesday.
“The wind was pretty good, plus it was cold. The cold temperatures didn’t help a lot,” White added. “The wind was pushing it [fire] right into the house, really.”
The 911 call came in from the residence at about 12:45 a.m., a Penobscot Regional Communications Center dispatcher said. Homeowner Stephen Burleigh, a retired military contractor, was home with his wife, Debra, a teacher at Lee Academy, when she noticed the flames, he said.
“She screamed and said, ‘Oh my God, the shed’s on fire.’ And I ran out and, sure enough, the whole wall of the shed was on fire,” Burleigh said Tuesday. “I went into the pool house that is in the back because I had a hose there, hoping that I would be able to keep it at bay until somebody could get here, but it was already too hot at that point. I couldn’t do anything.
“In fact, it burned the skin off my hand even at that point and it continued to spread,” Burleigh added. “It ate everything. Everything. ”
The wildfire danger rating for Tuesday was four in Penobscot County. According to the National Fire Danger Rating System, that means that fires “can start easily from all causes and immediately after ignition, spread rapidly and increase quickly in intensity. Spot fires are a constant danger.” Permitted burns have been banned in most towns. The highest ratings in the state were a six in western Aroostook and a seven, the highest possible rating, in eastern Aroostook County.
Burleigh said he didn’t know what in the shed could have started the fire. White knew the home would likely be destroyed long before firetrucks could get there. He said he was on Main Street, which is also Route 6, on his way to the fire station to fetch a truck when he saw evidence of the fire.
“The glow from it lit up the sky,” White said.
Lee, Lincoln, Kingman and Mattawamkeag fire departments sent pumpers, tanker trucks and firefighters on mutual aid. About 20 firefighters fought the fire, White said.
“It’s been a little hectic trying to get water up in there,” White said.
The cause of the fire will be logged as undetermined, said Sgt. Scott Richardson of the state fire marshal’s office. The damage caused by the flames was too extensive for a determination. Investigators visited the property on Tuesday morning.
The Burleighs are staying at a home on the Lee Academy campus, White said.
Burleigh said he and his wife had lived there for about five years. He expressed concern for a missing cat but believed his other pets and livestock were OK. He said they were insured but still lost a great deal.
“Even the wood boiler is burned up. The tractor’s burned, the trailer’s burned,” Burleigh said. “It just went through everything.”
Firefighters had to tow Springfield’s brushfire truck and pumper from the home’s narrow dirt driveway. Hose water on the already soft ground and the weight of the vehicles helped them to get mired, White said.
He estimated that firefighters put about 30,000 gallons of water on the fire.