FARMINGTON — Brothers Scott, 23, and Jacob MacLean, 19, sat opposite each other in the living room of their mobile home off Farmington Falls Road playing World of Warcraft Classic on their computers. It was a crisp Monday morning, sunny and cloudless.

Scott’s girlfriend, Kelsey Parlin, was sleeping in a bedroom down the hall from the living room. The boys’ father, Shannon, was away at work. Their mother, Betty, was across town with the family’s dog, Jack, at a property Scott owned.

Scott would soon see what he described as a sandstorm of white matter erupt around them, followed by a loud boom.

At 8:07 a.m., the Farmington Fire Department had received a call reporting a gas leak at the building housing Life Enrichment Advancing People, a nonprofit that provides services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities located at 313 Farmington Falls Road. Renovations to the building, including the addition of a second story, had just been completed in August.

The MacLeans’ mobile home is just behind the LEAP building. On the road off to the side of the LEAP building, children from the mobile home park had earlier boarded their bus and were headed off to school.

After the gas report, the LEAP building’s maintenance manager evacuated the building. Farmington firefighters arrived and entered the building to investigate the reported leak.

At 8:28 a.m., the building exploded. In seconds, the two-story building was gone, blown to smithereens, insulation and wood spreading all over the site and beyond, the power of the blast wrecking the 11 mobile homes in the nearby park.

The Macleans were among dozens whose lives were instantly changed by the blast, which shook the Farmington community to its core. The explosion that left a fire captain dead and seven others injured, also left 30 people homeless who lived in the nearby mobile homes.

Scott MacLean stands on the front steps of his family’s mobile home — destroyed by the LEAP Inc. building explosion four days earlier — as residents were allowed back in Thursday to pick up personal items. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Scott MacLean, who was sitting on the couch in his living room looking out the window toward the back of the LEAP building, then saw the white sandstorm. The front door of the mobile home was blown back into the inside wall. Dust and insulation filled the house.

His first instinct was to get his family together and get out of the house.

He called his mother, Betty, to see if she had the family dog. While the boys assured their mother that they were okay, she was not convinced.

“I was freaked out,” Betty said. “They told me that they were okay, but I was yelling at them for three minutes (through the phone) that I had the dog, and they couldn’t hear me. I know that they’re not okay.”

Betty MacLean described feeling helpless as she was stuck across town with no vehicle, unable to get hold of her husband.

Betty MacLean carries personal items salvaged Thursday from her mobile home adjacent to the LEAP building in Farmington. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

“I was stuck,” she said. “I was really freaking out.”

The boys’ father, Shannon, was working down the road at Good Times Unlimited RV Sales and Service. He was a quarter mile away when the blast nearly knocked him off the ladder he was standing on.

“I tore out of there as fast as I could go,” Shannon MacLean said. “I thought my kids were dead.”

“When I got to the yard, there was still debris falling from the sky. (My friend) Mike came out and we both ran to my trailer to get my kids.”

Once Shannon determined that his kids were OK, he ran to other mobile homes to make sure his neighbors could get to safety. In the panic of the moment, he had left his phone behind at work.

“I was scared out of my mind. I was screaming. I was so mad because (the propane tank) blew the place up, and we could smell (propane) forever out there.”

Parlin does not remember much about the blast, but she does remember screaming loudly. She thought she was living through a bombing.

“It was just white everywhere,” she said. “I couldn’t calm down and I kept inhaling the insulation, which sent me into a deeper panic.”

Parlin got out of her bed just before the trailer wall collapsed onto the mattress. Clad only in a spaghetti-strap tank top and shorts, she escaped with only a few cuts on her foot from broken glass.

“I thought the world was ending,” Parlin said. “I have never screamed so loudly and frantically in my life.”

 

BLAST CASUALTIES 

The blast killed veteran Fire Capt. Michael Bell, 68, a 30-year member of the Farmington Fire Department, and left six firefighters, including Bell’s brother, Fire Rescue Chief Terry Bell, and the maintenance manager, Larry Lord, seriously injured.

Preliminary investigations show that propane fueled the explosion. The blast was strong enough to blow vehicles across nearby intersections. People reported hearing it from 30 miles away in Hartford.

“It just shook the whole house and knocked stuff off of our walls,” said Steve Cutler, who lives about half a mile away from the site on Davis Road.

Scott MacLean takes a moment Thursday to reflect on retrieving his belongings from his home as his brother, Jacob MacLean, left, removes his mask in Farmington. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Betty and Shannon MacLean say they’ve smelled propane on and off at the site for months. Other residents, some of whom did not want to be named, said that the smell of gas has been around since renovations of the building began.

The MacLeans say they didn’t report the leak because they had complained about the trash left behind at the construction site.

Debbie Higgins and her husband were sleeping in their mobile home when the LEAP building exploded just yards away.

“There was a mirror in our bedroom that was glued to the wall. That’s what woke me up,” she said. “It smashed into my face and then the window blew in. My whole bedroom was covered in glass, and I couldn’t figure out how to get us out.”

“We’re alright. We have bruises and bumps, but we’re alright.”

 

THE AFTERMATH

Since the explosion, Higgins has been staying in Wilton with friends. She believes that her home is totaled as the side of the trailer is bowed. Her two dogs are staying with her brother in Falmouth.

“Thank God we have renters insurance,” Higgins said.

Higgins said a neighbor who was pregnant had a cesarean section delivery because the explosion had caused her to have a dangerously high heart rate. Higgins said the neighbor delivered her baby about 10 days before her expected due-date and the family is doing fine.

Higgins went back to her home on Thursday by herself with a list of things that she hoped to retrieve. Her husband is disabled and cannot walk through the debris. She is considering relocating altogether to be close to her family in and near Falmouth.

Farmington residents Ashlan Ankers, left, carrying a bag of clothing, and Maggie Camilerri, carrying a keyboard, are escorted by a firefighter near their home that was damaged in the Life Enrichment Advancing People building explosion Monday in Farmington. The couple and others were allowed to return to their damaged homes Thursday to retrieve essential items. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson

Maggie Camilleri and her partner, Ashlan Ankers, were not home when the explosion struck. Their mobile home is salvageable, but the couple does not have insurance on their personal property.

“You don’t expect stuff like this to happen,” she said. “We don’t have a whole lot of valuable stuff. It’s just the stuff you don’t think of, like the socks and toothbrushes that you have to go out and buy all over again.”

Camilleri was able to retrieve her cats on Wednesday, she said. They were found near the damaged home.

Farmington resident Maggie Camilleri holds up one of her two cats that she recovered Wednesday following Monday’s deadly building explosion at the Life Enrichment Advancing People facility in Farmington. Camilleri’s home was damaged in the blast and she is currently in temporary housing. Morning Sentinel photo by Rich Abrahamson

Camilleri and Ankers lived at the home with Camilleri’s daughter, who is now staying with her father.

“Our house is one of the three that is repairable, but they said it will be quite a while before power is restored and things can happen, so we’re looking for another place to live,” she said. “I’m glad it wasn’t a lot worse for us.”

Camilleri and Ankers went to their home on Thursday, hoping to retrieve a keyboard and clothing.

Jaime Green, who lives in the mobile home park with her family, including two children aged 8 and 10, said that her kids were not near the blast. The family’s main concern was retrieving the family’s second dog, who was found early Thursday morning by a neighbor.

“They’re going to be so happy,” she said.

On Thursday, when the tenants of the mobile home park were allowed to re-enter their homes for the first time since Monday, the landlord, Randy Dean, was at the site to talk with them.

Dean said the mobile homes are insured, but it is up to the individuals renting them to insure their belongings. Of the 11 properties, Dean said that only three are salvageable.

While Dean works to rehabilitate the homes, he understands that the families who lived there may not come back to live in the mobile homes once they are repaired or replaced.

Kelsey Parlin, seen Thursday, must cope with the stress and anxiety of losing her home and living through the explosion that killed one firefighter and injured several others. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

“Just do what’s best for your families right now,” he told tenants on Thursday as they waited to gather their belongings.

“I am just thankful that none of my tenants have any serious injuries,” Dean said.

Earlier in the week, he voiced concerns that he had for his tenants. “Many of these people are living paycheck to paycheck. I  hope that none of them are forgotten in all of this.”

Each tenant was encouraged to take photos of their belongings to document the damage for tax purposes later in the year.

Parlin retrieved a few pairs of shoes, her work clothes and her copy of a book, “13 Reasons Why.” She also found a few photos and family keepsakes that survived.

“This is the stuff you can’t replace,” she said, holding a large “M” decorated with photos of the family.

 

FAMILY PRIORITIES

Several organizations have stepped in to assist the displaced tenants, including the American Red Cross, United Way of the Tri-Valley Area and local schools. However, much of the immediate help providing food, clothing and housing is available to individuals for only a few days.

Housing in the area is also limited as many spaces have just recently been occupied by college students.

GoFundMe fundraisers have also been created for specific individuals.

Scott MacLean, sits on the bed Wednesday with his girlfriend Kelsey Parlin, as his brother Jacob, sits on his bed at the Farmington Motel. The three have been displaced from their mobile home, which was adjacent to the LEAP Inc. building that exploded Monday. The Red Cross and United Way have been helping the family while they search for a new place to live. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

As the MacLeans piece their lives back together, they know one thing is certain: They want to stay together. They went back to the mobile home on Friday to gather larger household belongings, including Parlin’s 2001 Chevy Tahoe, which was parked on the back side of the home which shielded it from the LEAP building explosion.

The family has also attended counseling sessions offered at a nearby hospital to work through their trauma as they try to shift back to normalcy.

“Our priority is to find new housing,” Scott MacLean said. “Our permanent living situation is up in the air, and we are looking to find a home that will work for the five of us.”

Scott MacLean, his brother and Parlin have been staying at the Farmington Motel with assistance from the American Red Cross. Betty and Shannon are staying in a camper on the property that Scott owns across town.

Jacob MacLean looks for an apartment, house or trailer that he can rent as he sits on his bed Wednesday at the Farmington Motel in Farmington. Morning Sentinel photo by Michael G. Seamans

Scott MacLean had been saving money to install a well and septic system on the property. He had been trying to get a loan with Parlin to buy a new trailer next spring, but has put those plans on hold until the family can get back on their feet.

In the wake of all this, the MacLean family has become closer. Holding a photo she had saved of herself and Scott taken when they started dating almost six years ago, Parlin smiled.

“It just means that we’re in this together forever,” he said.

Related Headlines

Comments are not available on this story.

Augusta and Waterville news

Get news and events from your towns in your inbox every Friday.


  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.