ATHENS — It was about 8:30 p.m. on Tuesday when Doug and Mary Lou Harlow heard the fire.
“We heard a crackling and saw a glow in the front yard, ran out and looked up at the roof, and it was on fire,” Doug Harlow said.
As he called 911, his wife ran to collect photos of their two children even though the flames were spreading quickly through their Civil War era farmhouse and two attached barns.
“All of a sudden, I didn’t see Mary Lou. She had gone back into the barn to try to retrieve some photos that were in a back room, and the barn is burning. I thought I’d lost her. I couldn’t see her,” Harlow said.
When she ran out, it was “like a vision out of a movie where here comes Mary Lou emerging from a burning barn, with the glow of the fire behind her. Unbelievable,” he said.
They weren’t injured, but they lost their home, barns and two vehicles in the blaze that drew about 40 firefighters from six area fire departments. Part of the house at the end of Dore Hill Road still stands, but they don’t yet know if it’s beyond repair.
Firefighters “were able to contain the fire before it absolutely flattened it,” Mary Lou Harlow, 58, said. “But there certainly is extensive damage.” The house was modestly insured. Their children, Georgia, 24, and John, 22, no longer live at home.
“We want to rebuild. I want the main house to be like it was, and we’ll get a local builder to do it,” said Doug Harlow, 62, who is a reporter for the Morning Sentinel. “I want to be home by Christmas.”
Mary Lou Harlow said the firefighters were “heroes” who “did everything they could,” including taking pictures off their walls. She described their neighbors as “incredible.”
“I ran out of the house in shorts, a T-shirt and sandals. I was just on adrenaline. The neighbors went and got clothes and everything for us. At one point I realized three people were holding me. Someone was lifting my leg and pulling pants on me,” she said.
“I think 30 people have called us this morning,” she said around noon on Wednesday. “At this point everyone has given us everything we need just by being there and offering. We don’t know what we need. We’re just numb right now.”
The first Athens firefighter to arrive was Nick Rotondi, who is still in high school and lives nearby. The second was Jeremy Farmer.
When Farmer pulled up, flames were coming out of the roof around one of the chimneys, he said, which was likely the source of the fire. In addition to Athens, firefighters from Cambridge, Harmony, Cornville, Skowhegan and Madison responded.
Their fire trucks were “lined all the way to the top of the hill,” Farmer said. Ed Ryan brought his pulp truck to help knock down walls to allow firefighters to get at the flames underneath.
A strong wind blew embers across the property, starting several small fires that the crews quickly extinguished.
“The trees looked like Christmas trees with all the lights on them,” Farmer said.
It took crews until about 11:30 p.m. to contain the fire, but they stayed on scene throughout the night. The remains of the barn continued to burn Wednesday morning.
Mary Lou and Doug Harlow plan to stay in a motel for a few days, they said. In the meantime, they are trying to be positive. Their garlic is planted, and they were able to save some items with sentimental value.
“We’re just trying to look at it with the perspective of not what we lost but what we didn’t lose,” Mary Lou Harlow said. They had lived in the house, on about 130 acres, since 1986.

Erin Rhoda — 612-2368
[email protected]

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