A fire that apparently started around a wood stove and chimney destroyed a two-story house on Aborn Hill Road in Knox Monday, leaving a man and his cat homeless.
About 50 firefighters from 11 towns fought the fire in the Waldo County town, which was made more difficult by persistent wind and the fire being in between walls, said Knox Fire Chief Matt Shaw.
The fire was one of several heating-related fires that have occurred in central Maine over the last few weeks.
There are usually more home fires in the winter because homes have more heat sources, and there are also low-hanging decorations and candles for the holiday season, according to Sgt. Ken Grimes of the Maine fire marshal’s office.
“This time of year, it only makes sense that there’d be more fires caused by heating issues,” he said.
Since mid-November, there have been at least seven fires in central Maine that have either damaged or destroyed homes, at least three of them caused by wood stove and chimney problems.
Grimes said the majority of cold-month fires can be avoided with precautions, such as having proper space between heat sources and flammable material.
“Any items that produce heat, you need to follow the manufacturer’s recommendation between spacing and the device,” he said. “It’s the single biggest preventative measure to prevent accidental fires.”
Regular maintenance to wood stoves, chimneys, pellet stoves and other heating equipment can also cut down on fires, according to Waterville and Winslow Fire Chief David LaFountain.
“Improper or lack of maintenance can cause problems,” LaFountain said. “It’s typical to see a rise in fires this time of year, but it’s highly preventable. Regular maintenance and cleaning will solve most problems.”
Other tips to avoid house fires during the cold months are to make sure space heaters are away from flammable materials, use as many flame retardant materials as possible, and keep children and pets away from candles, according to John Lamb, director of communications for the American Red Cross Mid-Maine Chapter.
The Red Cross is routinely called to the scene of a fire to provide immediate shelter, food and clothing for people affected, Lamb said.
The organization helps initiate the recovery process, sometimes with something as simple as having the victims call their insurance company.
Monday’s fire in Knox started between 9 a.m. and 9:30 a.m. in the older wood-frame house where homeowner Dwight Montgomery grew up.
As firefighters worked at the scene, Montgomery sat inside an ambulance to keep warm. He said he was home alone Monday morning and smelled smoke. When he opened a window to ventilate, he noticed smoke coming from the area where the chimney meets the wall.
He immediately called for help and got out of the house, unhurt. His cat, which he put inside his car, also was OK, he said.
Containing the fire was difficult because it was under the floors and the house had a lot of closets and dead spaces and had undergone remodeling, according to Shaw.
Flames shot about 20 feet into the air and then were blown horizontally by the wind.
The back part of the house was destroyed by noon.
“He (Montgomery) told me that the stove had been puffing back two or three times, which is indicative of a plugged chimney,” Shaw said early Monday evening.
Firefighters from Thorndike, Freedom, Liberty, Waldo, Unity, Brooks, Prospect, Troy, Waldo, Monroe and Palermo fought the fire, he said. They set up two portable pools to use as water sources, he said.
Montgomery said his house was insured and he loves the location, high atop the picturesque hill in the Waldo County town, and plans to rebuild.
He lost everything, according to Shaw, who said Montgomery was planning to stay with his sister, who lives just up the road.
Firefighters were at the scene until about 4:30 p.m. Four or five other departments were on standby Monday for the departments who responded to the scene, Shaw said.