Brunswick blaze destroys historic home

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BRUNSWICK — A fire that destroyed a historic home at 5 Maquoit Road raged for six hours Dec. 29 and left two firefighters and one resident injured.  

Chief Kenneth Brillant said the fire was caused by residents’ attempts to thaw frozen pipes with “some kind of high-heat or open-flame device” – reportedly a torch.

Deputy Chief Jeffrey Emerson said the device was not been recovered due to weather conditions and the state of the building. The Office of the Maine State Fire Marshal is conducting an investigation. 

According to town records, the house at the intersection of Maquoit Road, Mere Point Road and Maine Street, was built in 1850 and is owned by Morely James and Barbara Thomas.

Injuries suffered by one homeowner were non-life threatening and the resident, who was not identified, was treated and released from Mid Coast Hospital. James and Thomas were able to escape on their own and were staying with relatives in the area.

Emerson said the firefighters were injured when they fell through separate portions of the floor in the 168-year-old house. The first firefighter was unable to see a hole in the floor through the smoke and the other fell through an area that had been compromised in the blaze.

One firefighter was treated at Mid Coast Hospital and released, and the other was treated at the scene. 

Brillant and Emerson said Friday’s frigid temperatures made fighting the fire especially brutal. Ladders and radios were coated in ice, and cellphones and air packs were inoperative due to the cold.

“This fire would have been difficult in normal weather just because of the nature of the construction, but the cold weather really hampered us,” Emerson said.

A Freeport fire truck also malfunctioned due to weather conditions and had to be towed from the scene. The Brunswick School Department sent a school bus for aid, which firefighters used to warm themselves and their equipment.

In addition to Freeport and Brunswick, West Bath, Bath, Durham and Topsham fire departments assisted at the scene. Lisbon Falls and Yarmouth firefighters covered Brunswick’s station during the fire. 

Brillant said the blaze was mainly under control by 2:30 p.m.

Dick Snow, a Brunswick historian, said the area where the house is located would have been part of the holdings owned by the Dunnings family, who were early settlers of Brunswick. He said the surrounding area was primarily used for farming and woodland.

Larissa Vigue Picard, executive director of the Pejepscot Historical Society, said her organization does not have any information about the home.

Brillant said the fire is a reminder that no one should attempt to use devices with high heat or open flames to thaw pipes. The chief said if pipes need to be thawed, a hair dryer set at a low setting is a safe tool to use. 

He added anyone using a space heater to warm a home should not leave it unattended.

In addition, Emerson said a common misconception is that fires can only be started from direct contact with flames. However, frozen pipes are still able to conduct heat throughout a home.

“A lot of these fires don’t start with direct flames, they start with conduction,” he said.

Emerson added he knows the recent cold snap has made many people desperate for warmth, but if anyone has questions regarding safety they should call their local fire department.

“This time of year with these freeze-ups, things are freezing that haven’t frozen in years,” he said. “This is a desperate time for many people, but safety is paramount.”

Elizabeth Clemente can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or eclemente@theforecaster.net. Follow Elizabeth on Twitter @epclemente.

Firefighters fight a fire that raged for six hours at 5 Maquoit Road on Dec. 29, destroying a 168-year-old home and injuring two firefighters and one resident.

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