Firefighters arriving at a house and garage fire Saturday morning on East Gulch Road in Thorndike got more than they bargained for when a man living there told them he was “burning the demons” and if firefighters tried to put the fire out, he would shoot and kill all of them, according to Thorndike’s fire chief, George Russell.

The man was agitated and violent and started beating on firefighters who tried unsuccessfully to calm him down, after which the man threw rocks at them, Russell said.

Emergency crews finally managed to strap him onto a stretcher and took him by Unity Ambulance to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, Russell said.

“It was just like one of these things you see in New York or Florida where firefighters get attacked,” Russell said. “We read about it all the time in places out of state. I have done this job for 10 years and have been chief two years. I never expected anything like this to happen in a tiny town like this.”

The man started renting the small, wood-frame, single-story ranch house only four days ago but had not moved in any of his belongings, which were still in a U-Haul trailer parked in the driveway, according to Russell. He estimated the man to be in his 30s or 40s.

“The guy had actually trashed the house prior to our getting there,” he said. “Windows were broken and you could see where he pushed his fist through one of them.”

The owner of the house lives in Rhode Island, but her brother, Thorndike’s emergency management director, Budd Tibbetts, is caretaker of the property.

Tibbetts said later Saturday that he doesn’t know the monetary estimate of the damage, which the insurance company will determine.

“It was insured,” he said. “The garage was destroyed and the back porch and house eventually caught on, and there was a lot of damage.”

He declined to identify his sister and his brother-in-law, who own the property, or the tenant who was taken to the hospital.

The fire was reported at 9:25 a.m. The 15-by-20-foot, single-story garage was fully in flames when the first firefighter arrived, and it was destroyed, Russell said. The fire jumped to the house and damaged a laundry room close to the garage, he said.

The man renting the house told the firefighter he was going to shoot him if he tried to put the fire out, Russell said.

“The guy came towards him and said, ‘I’m burning the demons off. If you guys put the fire out, I’m going to start killing people,’ and it got worse from there. My firefighter backed off and the fire jumped to the roof of the house.

The town of Troy’s Assistant Chief David Ramee arrived in his private vehicle, and two Troy firefighters arrived with Engine 1.

“It wasn’t a real good place to be,” Ramee said later Saturday. “The guy had blood on him and stuff and we didn’t know what was going on, if there were more people in the building.”

A Troy firefighter radioed for help from the Waldo County Sheriff’s Office. Ramee did the same.

“It was our job to get the fire out and then search the building,” Ramee said. “We really needed law enforcement there as soon as we could because the house was burning and we needed to get in there and get the fire out.”

Ramee started talking with the man in an effort to calm him as the other firefighters stood back.

“He came at me and tried to knock me over several times, but I’m 61/2 feet tall and 215 pounds, so he didn’t do so good,” Ramee said.

Ramee said he started pushing the man down the driveway backward, and when they got to a snowbank, firefighters tackled him and tied him up until sheriff’s deputies arrived.

Meanwhile, Russell said, no one was injured in the incident, but he suspected firefighters would be a little sore the next day.

“He pushed and shoved and threw rocks at everybody,” he said. “He was definitely out of it.”

Fifteen to 20 firefighters from Thorndike, Troy, Unity and Freedom responded to the fire call; while Brooks, Jackson and Montville firefighters stood by in case more help was needed, according to Russell. They remained at the scene for two-and-a-half to three hours, he said.

The Office of the State Fire Marshal was called, and state fire investigator Stu Jacobs arrived to question the man, but Russell said he was “just wicked violent” and it took “15 or 16 straps” to secure him to the stretcher.

“It was quite the trip to the hospital in the back of the ambulance,” Russell said. “There was no calming him down whatsoever.”

Meanwhile, Sheriff’s Deputy James Porter said in a news release just before 7 p.m. that the man taken to the hospital “was having some sort of manic episode” and was taken to EMMC for evaluation and treatment of self-inflicted cuts and bruises that were not life-threatening, and he remained in protective custody.

“The fire was suspicious in nature based on the occupant’s statements and the circumstances, so the Fire Marshal’s Office was called to investigate the origin and cause of the fire,” Porter’s release says.

Porter, who went to the scene Saturday, said the incident is being investigated.

Russell said he did not know what caused the fire.

“We really don’t. There was so much damage,” he said. “I can’t tell you what actually started it, but the fire marshal’s office will probably work on that.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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