WESTPORT ISLAND, Maine — The residents of a Westport Island home destroyed by a structure fire reported shortly after 2 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 25, have only the shirts on their back, Westport Island Fire Chief Bob Mooney said.
The owners of the home at 9 North End Rd., Stanley Lane and his wife, Dr. Norma Dreyfus, were on an overnight trip to Boston when the fire was reported. Their pet, a German shepherd named Gracie, was safely boarded in a kennel at the time of the fire, Mooney said.
The home, valued at over $800,000, and a new Subaru wagon were each a total loss, Mooney said. It was the couple’s primary residence. They are currently staying in a hotel, he said. The home was insured.
The State Fire Marshal’s Office is investigating the fire and the cause is officially undetermined. The working theory, however, is that a lightning strike was the cause, Mooney said.
Lane is an active member of the Westport Island Volunteer Fire Department, Mooney said. He is a first responder and member of the board of directors, and is extremely cautious about fire protection, Mooney said.
The house was armed with a 24-hour alarm system, but the alarm never went off. Lightning strikes have been known to disable alarm systems, Mooney said, and investigators believe the house may have been struck during the thunderstorm that rolled through Westport Island the evening before the fire was reported.
Neighbor Nancy Malone said she smelled something burning that evening and checked her oven and other electrical appliances at her house repeatedly to see if they were the source of the smell.
Malone said she again smelled something burning throughout the next morning but could not locate the source of the smell. “It never crossed my mind” it could have been another house, she said. “It makes me want to cry. I know this house.”
Mooney was first on the scene when the fire was reported at about 2:15 p.m. The house was fully engulfed in flames when he arrived, he said. Lane was notified that his house was on fire when he received the fire department’s page.
The Westport Island Fire Department, along with the Alna, Boothbay, Dresden, Edgecomb, Newcastle, Wiscasset, and Woolwich departments, responded to the scene, with other area departments providing station coverage.
The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office and the Wiscasset Ambulance Service also responded. Central Maine Power Co. was present at the scene.
Seven tanker trucks and dozens of firefighters worked to contain the fire to the structure and eventually extinguish the flames. They used a “surround-and-drown” tactic, Mooney said. Several thousand gallons of water were used.
Due to the wet weather, firefighters were able to contain the flames, Mooney said. Had the conditions been dry, the fire would have spread and the surrounding woods would have burned.
An excavator was called in to knock down the walls of the house, which continued to smolder through the night. The scene was officially cleared at 7:30 p.m. Mooney worked until almost midnight and other members of the department checked on the scene throughout the night, he said.
“These rural towns couldn’t exist without mutual aid, and this is a perfect example,” Mooney said. “The response was phenomenal. I’m so grateful to everyone that responded the way they did.”
The Woolwich auxiliary, in addition to neighbors, brought food and water to firefighters at the scene. “I have a lot of thank you cards to write,” Mooney said.
The Westport Island Fire Department returned to the scene at 6:30 a.m. due to a report that the fire had rekindled. The fire department was able to attack smoldering hot spots without the need for mutual aid due the number of personnel that responded, Mooney said.
The Westport Island Fire Department is a purely volunteer department; firefighters do not get a stipend for responding to calls.
The North End Road fire was the first fully involved structure fire on Westport Island in almost five years, Mooney said.
“It just goes to show all the planning and preparation these past years were targeted so we’re where we need to be,” he said. “We always need new members, though. Members are right up there with water when it comes to fire protection.”
For more information or to become involved in the Westport Island Volunteer Fire Department, contact Bob Mooney at email@example.com or 460-0367.