SOMERVILLE — A 92-year-old man’s body was found late Thursday night after firefighters responded to a blaze amid near-zero temperatures at his Crummett Mountain Road farmhouse.
Cecil Brann, who lived there alone, was found dead in the house’s kitchen about 9 p.m., according to a release from the Department of Public Safety.
State officials said Brann’s death was the first of the year in Maine related to a fire. The state medical examiner’s office was scheduled to exam the body Friday.
Thursday night, sparks and embers picked up by the wind rose over the treetops as Arlita Webber, of Augusta, a niece of Brann’s, and her brother stood outside on the dirt road in the bitter cold, watching the fire and fearing the worst.
The fire was reported about 3:30 p.m. by a neighbor who saw smoke and drove to the farmhouse. Firefighters converged on the scene from Somerville, Whitefield, Coopers Mills, Windsor and elsewhere. Several rescue vehicles stood by, and at least two investigators with the State Fire Marshal’s Office were on the scene as well.
Firefighters bundled up against the cold walked the perimeter of the yard that contained the old wooden, two-story cape-style farmhouse.
There were hoses, but little water.
“The first problem is the Fire Department’s having problems with water delivery,” said Sgt. Ken Grimes, an investigator with the State Fire Marshal’s Office. “The water holes are frozen solid, and the trucks trying to deliver are all frozen.”
Grimes said other departments were assisting, but they too found the water frozen by the time they reached the rural location.
Temperatures Thursday night hovered close to zero degrees Fahrenheit, with the wind making it feel even colder.
“We’re on top of a knoll, and with the temperatures we have out here and the wind that’s blowing, it’s brutal for people and equipment,” he said.
Grimes said the fire would have to be out and the site cooled before an investigation could begin to determine whether Brann was inside and what might have started the blaze.
“This is going to be a very long process,” he said.
Webber, who had no hat, kept her hands tucked up inside her coat to keep try to keep them warm because she also did not have her gloves. She rejected advice to return home or at least sit in a warm truck.
“I’m staying,” she said, her voice breaking.
Others stood with her, smoking cigarettes in a futile effort to gain some warmth.
The number of onlookers grew as more neighbors returned home from work and either walked or tried to drive up the road to check on Brann.
One neighbor, Kate Nichols, parked her car in her driveway and immediately headed farther up Crummett Mountain Road to where the emergency vehicles were parked.
“What’s going on?” she asked. “Is it Cecil’s?”
She said she had brought a birthday cake to Brann on Monday and they had chatted for a couple of hours, with Brann recalling that his father had died in the 1970s in a trailer fire.
Brann’s wife, Virginia, died at age 72 in 2000. Brann was listed as her husband of 49 years, according to an obituary; they married on New Year’s Day in 1951.
In 2009, at age 88, Brann donated 250 acres to the nonprofit Small Woodland Owners Association of Maine. The land on Turner Ridge Road, a few miles north of Brann’s residence, is called the Cecil and Virginia Brann Memorial Forest.
Brann was quoted as saying family members had owned the land for about a century, though no one has lived on it for three generations. As the farmland gave way to woodlands, Brann said hunting was a popular pastime on the property, and he just wanted the area to be preserved for others after his death.
“When you leave something behind, you never know what’ll happen to it,” Brann said at the time. “I wanted it to stay natural land so people can hunt there, play there, do whatever. I hope people can use it and get enjoyment out of it.”
Betty Adams — 621-5631