Wednesday, April 23, 2014
By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling firstname.lastname@example.org
FAIRFIELD — The New Year’s Eve fire that destroyed the Hutchins Road home of an elderly woman and her adult son appears to have been accidental.
UNWELCOME TREND: The fire that destroyed the Fairfield home of Viola Hutchins and her adult son, Elmer, late Tuesday night was likely one that started accidentally in the chimney.
Staff File photo by David Leaming
It’s the latest example of the type of accident that is happening more often in the wake of extreme weather and widespread power outages, fire officials said.
The investigation into the cause of the fire is ongoing, but all signs point to it being an accidental chimney fire, authorities said.
Fire officials released the names of the elderly mother and her adult son who were left homeless when their farm house on Hutchins Road burned to the ground.
Viola Hutchins and her son, Elmer Hutchins, were already out of the house by the time emergency responders from Fairfield Fire and Rescue arrived shortly before 10 p.m. on New Year’s Eve, according to Fairfield Fire Chief Duane Bickford.
Bickford said 25 firefighters from eight towns responded to the fire and kept warm in the subzero temperatures by rotating into a heated school bus.
“I want to thank the mutual aid from the other towns,” Bickford said. “They did a great job in the extreme cold.”
In March, Viola Hutchins, then 79, told police that her pit bull, Kaiser, saved her life when a family member attacked her.
Kaiser bit the attacker on the arm hard enough to cause bleeding, ending the attack.
Bickford said a white pit bull from the house was with the mother and son in the aftermath of the fire, but he was not sure if it was the same animal.
Bickford said he and a few other members of Fairfield’s fire department revisited the scene on Hutchins Road for about an hour Thursday afternoon, putting out lingering hot spots in the fire and attempting to salvage items.
He said some jewelry and some pictures were found inside pieces of furniture and will be returned to the Hutchins family.
Attempts to reach the Hutchins family for comment were unsuccessful.
Bickford said the mother and son were put up in a hotel for the night by the American Red Cross.
Mike Mason, a regional disaster officer for the Red Cross, wouldn’t confirm the provision of a hotel, citing privacy concerns, but he said the organization did work with the affected family on Hutchins Road to help meet their needs.
A tragic trend
Mason said that every year, the organization helps about 1,400 people in 300 households across Maine after a serious fire.
“In the beginning of winter, we see an uptick because people are starting to use alternate sources to heat their homes and also the same thing during very cold spells,” he said.
Since Christmas Eve, significant structure fires have been reported in Bremen, China, Freeport, Pittston and Waterville.
He said the Red Cross provided emergency services to a handful of fire victims in the aftermath of the ice storm and also operated six shelters throughout the region as more than 100,000 people lost power.
In addition to emergency housing, the Red Cross also provides clothing, medication, food and counseling services to those in need.
Mason said those who are in need, or who would like to support the organization’s efforts, could visit www.maineredcross.org for more information.
Sgt. Ken Grimes with the State Fire Marshal’s Office said the investigation was essentially complete.
“It appears as if the fire originated around the chimney area, and all indications at this time are that it’s accidental,” he said.
Grimes agreed that the extreme cold and widespread power outages in the wake of a Christmas week ice storm seem to have led to more house fires than usual.
“People work their wood stoves and fireplaces harder at this time of year,” he said. “If there was going to be a problem, this is the kind of weather that would bring it out.”
Grimes said homeowners should be careful to follow safety precautions and to maintain their chimneys and other heating systems.
“The older a chimney gets, the more maintenance it requires as far as proper interior tiles, repointing of the mortar, and checking and correcting broken bricks,” he said.