LEXINGTON TOWNSHIP — The old farmhouse should have burned.

Rescue crews were stretched across Somerset County on Tuesday, helping an injured hiker off a mountain and battling a tree on fire, when lightning reportedly struck one of the community’s oldest houses.

When a neighbor driving by saw flames shooting from the windows of the house owned by Victoria Burbank, he rushed a quarter-mile to the home of her sister-in-law, Valerie Burbank, since he had no cell phone coverage to dial 911.

Valerie Burbank was worried about the farmhouse, she said on Wednesday, but she remembered something her husband, Bart, the town’s assistant fire chief, often repeated: If you can get water to a fire, you have a chance.

So she, her daughter-in-law and a neighbor took that chance.

Though Burbank, daughter-in-law Sherry Burbank and neighbor Ed McCarty all volunteer with the Lexington Fire Department, they don’t have training for building interiors. They usually help with traffic control or watch the pressure gauge on the trucks, Burbank said.

But they knew they had to act quickly. So they drove a firetruck to the home at 1868 Long Falls Dam Road around 4 p.m. and doused the blaze with water from the outside, while firefighters from area towns drove the approximately 25 minutes to the remote location.

“It could have gone downhill in a hurry, but timing was just right,” Anson Fire Chief Alan Walker said. “They did just enough to hold it.”

Usually a house is lost by the time firefighters arrive from a far distance to a fully involved structure fire, Walker said, so it’s “remarkable” the house still stands.

The fire destroyed an attached woodshed and part of the kitchen, but the small Lexington crew held back the fire from the main portion of the house.

When the approximately 15 firefighters from Anson, New Portland, Madison, Kingfield and Carrabassett Valley arrived, they fought the fire from inside and outside the home, and a neighbor used his buckloader to help tear off the shed roof, to get at the flames underneath.

“I’m so proud of everybody,” said Burbank, a former dispatcher for the Somerset County Communications Center. “In a small area like that, the neighbors are what will save you. They’re always there to help you, no matter what.”

Though firefighters saved most of the uninsured house, there was one loss of a historic nature.

The destroyed shed was originally built in the town of Flagstaff, said Victoria Burbank, who grew up in the house and was not home at the time of the fire. But when the town of Flagstaff was flooded 60 years ago to form Flagstaff Lake, the building was moved to Lexington.

“I am sad it happened, but I’m beside myself I’m able to still scrub it up,” she said Wednesday. She’s been a teacher at Winslow Elementary School for 22 years, commuting more than an hour each day because she loves where she lives, she said. Her family has owned the house for 43 years.

“To be able to save a structure like that, I am just so absolutely thankful,” Valerie Burbank said. “I could not sleep last night because of it.” All she could think of was “quick thinking on everybody’s part was what saved it,” she said.

Though she didn’t know exactly when the house was built, she said it is older than 100 years and is one of the town’s three or four oldest homes.

Michael Smith, Somerset County Communications Center and Emergency Management Agency director, said he believes emergencies are more difficult for rural areas to handle because fewer people are available.

Most people on local fire departments have full-time jobs outside their hometown and aren’t around to fight fires or don’t have the time for the mandatory training, he said.

Of the 25 fire departments in Somerset County, he said, just two — Skowhegan and Fairfield — have full-time fire crews. He invited people to contact their local fire chiefs about joining.

Wayne Rundlett, assistant fire chief in New Portland, was one firefighter who both helped put out a burning tree and the house fire on Tuesday.

At the same time, his brother, Brian Rundlett, also an assistant fire chief in town, was helping bring an injured hiker to safety after he fell and possibly broke his shoulder in the Bigelow Mountain Range. Officials said it took nine hours to get the Florida man out of the mountains.

Wayne Rundlett said he didn’t remember the last time local fire crews were so busy. “It’s been that long,” he said.

Forest Ranger Darrell Rich, with the Maine Forest Service, said another lightning bolt hit a tree on a peninsula jutting into Gilman Pond in Lexington Township.

Reported at 12:53 p.m., the blaze kept fire personnel on scene about seven hours because crews had to leave to fight the house fire. “It was a large tree, and it was burning quite hot,” Rich said.

About six responders took a boat across the pond and then had to walk through a bog to get to the tree. Rich said he cut down the tree first and then poured water onto it, pumped from the pond.

He had to cut it because “if the fire gets up into the tree high enough, we can’t reach it — and it’s going to die anyway,” he said.

An investigator with the State Fire Marshal’s Office was expected to verify the house fire’s cause late Wednesday. There was a loud crack of thunder and lightning before the fire, but it wasn’t possible to determine a point of entry because the woodshed was destroyed, Walker said.

There was one injury at the house fire when an Anson firefighter pulled a muscle in his shoulder, Walker said.

Erin Rhoda — 612-2368

[email protected]

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