CHINA — Neil Farrington’s hands were bloody.
He was still in shock and emotionally exhausted Friday morning as he looked back at his three-story home on China Lake and watched smoke billow out of each floor. Even as he watched his home of 18 years on Fire Road 14 go up in flames — losing three dogs and potentially a cat in the fire — Farrington still found a way to be optimistic.
“Well, at least Central Maine Power doesn’t have to come turn my power on,” Farrington said, smiling.
Just minutes before, Farrington had returned home about to find it full of smoke and his disabled brother-in-law lying in bed suffering from smoke inhalation.
Farrington tried to break the sliding door to get him out, but it was too thick. He then took a shovel to the bedroom window, breaking it but cutting his hands as he went through. Farrington, his neighbor and a first responder lifted his brother-in-law out through the window and to safety.
Farrington, 63, who lived in the home with his wife, brother-in-law and five children, had been without power since Monday because of this week’s ice storm, and he had been out getting his generator repaired when he returned around 10:30 a.m. to find the home in flames.
The official cause of the fire is not known, but Farrington suspects lit candles inside the home may have ignited it.
“I saw the smoke and heard the noise of the alarms, and the first thing I thought was, â€˜Well I don’t have any power, that’s odd,'” he said.
When Farrington opened his door, smoke flew out. With his wife and children away on vacation, Farrington knew his 59-year-old brother-in-law, Gerald Folsom, who has cerebral palsy, was alone inside and helpless.
“I was able to reach him through the window, but I wasn’t able to lift him up through it,” Farrington said. “I was yelling for what seemed like 10 minutes to my neighbor, who couldn’t hear because he was snow-blowing. Eventually his wife got his attention, and he and a first responder helped me get him outside.
One of the first emergency personnel on scene was China Village volunteer firefighter Joe Labbe. After clearing a call on Fire Road 11 just a few minutes before, Labbe responded to a hectic scene.
“I came over and there was a neighbor coming down screaming someone was trapped,” Labbe said. “I went out back and found (Farrington) trying to gain entry through the window where the smoke was emanating from. (Folsom) was on the bed, I gained entry through the window, got the victim up and passed him out the window. The homeowner and the neighbor pulled him out and I got a mattress out and put the victim on it and pulled him away from the building.”
Folsom was eventually taken by Lifeflight helicopter to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston to be treated for what Labbe described as moderate to severe smoke inhalation. Farrington said later Friday that Folsom’s condition was improving, his lungs had been cleared and a breathing tube was removed. He planned to spend the night at the hospital with his brother-in-law.
Farrington had left to get his generator fixed about an hour before the fire ignited. A tree fell on the electrical wiring connected to his house earlier in the week and Farrington’s family hadn’t had power since Monday. To keep the water heater in the basement from freezing, Farrington put a couple of lit candles near it, and he guesses that’s how the fire started.
The cause of the fire is still unknown, according to Sgt. Ken Grimes of the state fire marshal’s office.
Grimes said Friday afternoon the scene was still hot.
“I’m not sure if we’ll be able to get in there and examine it before dark today,” he said. “Besides conducting a couple interviews, we haven’t started with the work on the scene yet.”
Farrington’s home is about a quarter-mile off Neck Road and about a half-mile from China Neck Cemetery, near the end of a long, windy road covered in snow and ice.
At the entrance of Fire Road 14, tree limbs covered in ice leaned over the road and were sawed off for emergency vehicles to make it through. The China Public Works Dept. was called in to sand the road so emergency vehicles could make it safely to the home.
“We’re very pleased it’s not a sub-zero temperatures day,” Labbe said. “The firefighting conditions were fairly moderate for this time of year.”
While Farrington managed to get Folsom out with some help, his three dogs — a labradoodle named Murphy, a mini-poodle named Olivia and a schnauzer mix named Lanie — died in the fire. Farrington saw his cat, covered in soot, escape the house, but he hasn’t seen him since.
Farrington and his wife, who have lived there since 1995, have four teenage daughters, who they adopted, and are foster parents for one of the girls’ 11-year-old brother. The children and Farrington’s wife were on a post-Christmas vacation in North Conway, N.H., when the fire occurred, he said.
Farrington hadn’t thought about where he and his family will stay, saying that he has plenty of neighbors and friends in the area who will help them.
Farrington’s thoughts, however, remained inside his former home.
“It’s just unfortunate about the pets,” he said. “Between them and all the Christmas gifts that no one got to try on, the holiday season went up in flames.”
Jesse Scardina — 861-9239