FREEPORT — Richard and Diane Peacock lost nearly everything when their mobile home of nearly 17 years was destroyed by a fire on Christmas Eve.
But they said they couldn’t be luckier to have each other after Richard Peacock escaped the smoke and flames with his dog that night.
Especially after the 65-year-old retired veteran overcame a small heart attack.
“It’s been a wonderful Christmas present for me because I’m still here,” Peacock said Saturday, Dec. 29, recounting his escape from 7 Starboard Lane, in a small neighborhood off Staples Point Road.
Fire Chief Darrel Fournier said the fire was accidental, originating in a malfunctioning electrical motor in Peacock’s hospital bed.
The fire chief said lives were saved by two smoke alarms that sounded when the fire started.
With little left of the Peacocks’ possessions, a coalition of friends, family and community members have united to help them transition from the tragedy.
The fire has even reunited the couple with relatives they haven’t seen for years, or at least during the holidays.
And despite their tremendous loss, the Peacocks said they are looking forward to returning to their beloved neighborhood – all the while maintaining high spirits and a sense of humor.
After the fire, Peacock said he looked from the mobile home’s front door, out through the gaping hole in the back wall that was opened by the flames.
“I looked down and I could see right out to the ocean, so I told (Diane) we ought to sell it as a fixer-upper with an ocean view and open floor plan,” he said, laughing.
Diane Peacock said, “That’s his humor that’s been keeping him going.”
On Christmas Eve, Peacock was taking a nap, something he normally does before his wife comes home from work.
But last week he woke to blaring smoke alarms, which led him to initially think it was his oven.
But then he realized he couldn’t breathe well and his eyes were burning.
“So I rolled off the bed and turned around,” Richard Peacock said, “and between my back, the edge of the bed and the wall, there were flames shooting up from the floor.”
After calling 911, the retired military veteran noticed the flames were spreading.
“The whole place was ablaze,” he said. “It hit the ceiling and just like, ‘whoosh.'”
With little time to make a move, Peacock grabbed his 6-year-old dog, Gunner, by the collar and fled.
The escape was so rushed, he didn’t even have socks or shoes on his feet. And to keep his panicked dog under control, he took off his belt and looped it on the pet’s collar.
“I was holding him with one hand and my pants up with the other,” Peacock said.
Diane Peacock, 60, was working at G.M Pollack & Sons in Topsham – and in the process of selling a $4,000 diamond – when she received the call.
“I immediately lost it,” she said.
After arriving at his brother’s house a short drive away, Peacock realized he had lost all of his medications, so he and his wife drove to the Togus Veterans Affairs Medical Center near Augusta to get them refilled.
That’s when the chest pains he had experienced earlier started coming back.
Doctors determined that Peacock suffered a small heart attack at some point after the fire, so he was sent to Maine Medical Center in Portland for treatment.
That’s where he slept Christmas Eve and Christmas night.
Peacock was released from the hospital on Dec. 27.
By that time, a coalition of friends, family and neighbors were lining up to help.
For starters, the Peacocks were recipients of a temporary home, right across from their former home on Starboard Lane.
The couple said the owner, who doesn’t typically stay there, allowed them to live there until they could move forward with a permanent living arrangement.
There have also been three funds created for the Peacocks – one at Diane Peacock’s other employer, Shaw’s Supermarket in Freeport, the second at Toddy Brook Golf Course in North Yarmouth, and the third at Atlantic Federal Regional Credit Union, also in Freeport.
In addition, there has been an online fund created at www.gofundme.com/5wza38.
And that’s not all.
The Peacocks are also receiving food, home goods, furniture, a $200 voucher to Reny’s and other items from Freeport Community Services, a nonprofit organization that helps people in need.
In addition, the community-based organization has teamed up with the town of Freeport to donate 150 gallons of heating oil.
Diane Peacock said most of the assistance was facilitated by her neighbor Sandra English, whom she has only known since earlier this year.
“She’s my angel. She’s amazing,” she said. “It’s just overwhelming.”
The two met last spring when they were both helping a neighbor who recently had his leg amputated.
Diane Peacock said the friendly gesture is common in her neighborhood.
“That’s just the type of people we’re dealing with down here,” she said. “We just help each other out.”
English said she typically wouldn’t have much time during the work week to manage the logistics of helping a family recover from a house fire.
But because she was on vacation last week, she had all the time in the world.
“I’m just doing what they would do for me,” English said.
The outpouring of support has also come from relatives, some of whom Diane and Richard Peacock hadn’t seen for years.
The couple has even heard from their former spouses.
Diane Peacock saw her daughter on Christmas Day for the first time in more than 15 years.
Because she works two jobs in retail, she said spending time with family – especially on holidays – just doesn’t happen.
“So I’ve been able to see all my family, in a weird way, and they’ve all come through,” with various ways to help them, Diane Peacock said. “It’s been crazy.”
Richard Peacock’s escape from the fire also gave the family another reason to celebrate this week: His birthday is New Year’s Eve.
“It’s going to be another celebration, but a good one this time,” his wife said.
On a recent weekend morning, Diane Peabody said she was looking through her wallet and found a lottery ticket she recently bought.
The game was called “Lucky for Life.”
“It’s like, yeah, that’s what I’m thankful for and lucky for, for life, because my husband made it out with the dog,” she said. “Most people don’t get that chance.”
Freeport Fire Chief Darrel Fournier surveys the situation and develops an attack strategy after firefighters responded on Christmas Eve to a blaze in a mobile home at 7 Starboard Lane, off Staples Point Road. The rear of the home, owned by Richard and Diane Peacock, was heavily involved in flames when firefighters arrived at about 5 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 24. With nearby homes in danger, and the possibility that some local firefighters might be out of town for the holiday, Fournier went to a second alarm to utilize resources from Yarmouth, Brunswick, Cumberland, Pownal and Falmouth.
Firefighters enter the back of the mobile home, knocking down the fire at its source. Behind them, a propane tank burns after it was ignited by nearby flames.
Firefighters continue to douse the hot-spots inside the mobile home after removing a home hospital bed whose motor was believed to be the cause of the blaze. The heat from the fire burned away most of the back wall of the home.
Richard and Diane Peacock with their dog, Gunner, at Richard’s brother’s house in Freeport, on Saturday, Dec. 28, four days after a fire destroyed their home.
Sandra English, a neighbor of the Peacocks, helps the couple prepare for their temporary home on Dec. 27 by unloading food and other home goods provided by Freeport Community Services.
Sandra English, right, discusses furniture needs for the Peacock’s temporary home on Dec. 27 with Ian Fraser and James Crawford of Freeport Community Services.