WINTHROP — An early-morning fire on Pine Knoll Road that one man escaped minutes before flames blocked his only way out was set deliberately, according to investigators.
Fire Chief Dan Brooks said the fire at 4 Pine Knoll Road, which broke out around 3 a.m. Saturday as four people slept inside, was not accidental.
“It’s definitely an arson,” he said.
Nobody was hurt in the fire, but the outcome could have been much different, Brooks said. Storme Lunt, 19, who shares the house with his parents, Patrick and Beth Lunt, escaped down the only exit from his attic-level bedroom just a few minutes before the stairs were engulfed in flames.
“Probably another five minutes, he wouldn’t have made it down those stairs on his own,” Brooks said. “His means of escape was right where the fire was.”
Beth Lunt said the only other way out of the room was through an upstairs window.
She said she was awakened by the smell of smoke and roused her husband and her son. An adult family friend who was visiting, as well as family pets, were able to get out before the fire.
“The smell woke me up,” she said.
Brooks said it was clear early on that the fire was suspicious because it started on the outside of the house, where there is nothing such as wiring that typically might cause an accidental fire.
“It appears the fire started in the bulkhead entrance area to the basement and traveled up the outside wall and got into the attic,” Brooks said. “It basically got into both rooms on that corner on the first and second floor.”
Crews from Monmouth, Manchester and Augusta assisted Winthrop with putting out the fire. The flames were knocked down within 30 minutes, Brooks said. Firefighters spent a few hours dousing hot spots.
“We had it pretty well out pretty quickly,” Brooks said.
The house is heavily damaged. Beth Lunt said it is insured, but she doubts it is salvageable. She said the family does not expect to rebuild.
The American Red Cross has paid for the family to stay at a local motel until Monday.
“After that, we don’t know where we’ll be,” she said. Their nearest relatives live in Washington County.
The family was able to retrieve a number of personal items from the home.
“A lot of it is smoke- and water-damaged,” Lunt said.
Lunt said her family has lived in the home for six years and has made mortgage payments for the past year as part of a purchase contract. She is unsure who might have started the fire.
“All we can go on is what the fire marshal told us,” she said.
Brooks said investigators are following up on leads. He urged anybody who saw anything suspicious to call Winthrop police at 377-7226.
Brooks said nothing suggests there is an increased public risk. He said the fire does not appear to be a random act.
Beth Lunt said the fire was the second to occur on the property. Flames destroyed the family’s bait shop about five years ago. That building was never rebuilt.
Craig Crosby — 621-5642 firstname.lastname@example.org Twitter: @CraigCrosby4