Survivors made freezing escape from Orrington fire that killed two

Charles Eichacker | BDN
Charles Eichacker | BDN
A home at 359 Brewer Lake Road in Orrington was destroyed and two people died in a fire early on the morning of Saturday, Jan. 19.
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But the flames quickly swept through the boxy, two-story home at 359 Brewer Lake Road, shooting out into the backyard and blowing out all the windows.
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The owner of an Orrington home that started to burn early Saturday morning tried to call 911 on a cordless landline phone, but when that didn’t work, Richard Murphy had to run outside in single-digit temperatures without any shoes or socks, according to his next-door neighbor.

“He came out and was banging like crazy on my door,” the neighbor, Heidi Graham, said in an interview on Monday. “His hair was singed and he was in bare feet, and he was screaming, ‘Call 911!’”

[Authorities identify one of two killed in Orrington fire]

As Graham reported the fire to authorities around 2:30 a.m., Murphy ran back into his home, Graham said. Two people — including Murphy’s sister, 55-year-old Shelly Lynn Murphy — were still inside. So were three dogs and two cats who also lived there, Graham said.

Charles Eichacker | BDN
Charles Eichacker | BDN
A home at 359 Brewer Lake Road in Orrington was destroyed and two people died in a fire early on the morning of Saturday, Jan. 19.

But the flames quickly swept through the boxy, two-story home at 359 Brewer Lake Road, shooting out into the backyard and blowing out all the windows, according to Graham.

At some point, Murphy returned outside. But the two people and the pets died.

Authorities still have not publicly identified the second victim, although they have described him as a middle-aged man. Both he and Shelly Lynn Murphy were found on the second floor, authorities said.

Three people did escape the blaze with minor burns and smoke inhalation: 57-year-old Richard Murphy and two others who lived there, 52-year-old Tanya Clapp and 34-year-old Douglas Davis.

After they fled the burning home, they spent several hours in Graham’s home as firefighters worked over the rubble.

“It’s devastating,” Graham said. “Rick and I watched that place go up in no time. We were all in shock. … I’m glad I was here. They were freezing.”

On Monday, both the green home and a recently constructed dog house in the front yard were gutted and charred. Water that firefighters had sprayed into the eves of the home on Saturday morning had frozen into thick, sooty icicles.

Courtesy of Jim Ellis
Courtesy of Jim Ellis
A fire in Orrington destroyed a home and killed two people the morning of Jan. 19.

Graham just moved to her home last August and said she did not know her neighbors very well. She didn’t think Richard Murphy had a cell phone, and attempts to reach him Monday were unsuccessful.

After the fire, Murphy, Clapp and Davis went to an area hotel and received assistance from the American Red Cross, Graham said.

Over the weekend, the state fire marshal’s office reported that the fire appeared to have started in a first-floor bedroom, where a man and woman were sleeping, before spreading to the second floor.

The man and woman warned the rest of the occupants about the blaze, and the home also had a working smoke alarm, according to Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.

On Saturday, authorities said they had not determined a cause of the Orrington fire. On Monday, McCausland said that he had not received any new information since the weekend.

In Maine, fire fatalities used to be far more common than they are now. More than 450 were reported per decade from the 1950s to the 1970s, but that number fell to 200 in the 1990s and 177 in the early aughts. Over the past five years, the total number of people who died from Maine fires each year has hovered between 15 and 25.

 



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