January 22, 2013

Chimney ashes may be to blame for fire in New Portland home Tuesday

Family of four displaced from their River Road home; fire likely started with a faulty chimney cleaning device, say firefighters

By Rachel Ohm rohm@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

NEW PORTLAND -- Photo albums and a few other items are all that is left after a family of four lost their home to fire Tuesday morning.

click image to enlarge

Mikey Raley exits the burned New Portland home of her daughter, Shellen Raley Masterman, carrying salvaged photo albums.

Staff photo by David Leaming

Hours after the flames had been extinguished, Mikey Raley was pulling the pictures from the ruins of the house, which was covered in icicles and ash, and loading them into the back of her car.

"I got the phone call around 6 this morning. Luckily everyone is safe and no one is hurt," said Raley, who is the mother of the home's owner, Shellen Raley Masterman.

Masterman lived at 35 River Road home with her husband, Adam, and their two daughters, Fionna, 8, and Sarae, 2. They also have a dog, Echo, and two cats, Mama and Fressin, that lived there.

Raley said the family was sleeping when Shellen smelled smoke and woke up. She yelled, "Fire!," and woke up her husband, Raley said.

She said Fionna remembered a fire drill from school and got herself out, while Adam Masterman got Sarae out. Shellen got the dog out and then went back into the house to call the fire department, since they don't have cellphones, Raley said.

New Portland Assistant Fire Chief Brian Rundlett said the fire department was called about 3:45 a.m. He said that although they were able to arrive within minutes, it took almost six hours to extinguish the fire and make sure the area was safe.

"We had to fight the cold and our equipment freezing up, so it did take awhile," he said.

Fire Capt. Kyle Handrahan said he believed the fire started because of a faulty cleaning device in the chimney.

"It looks like the cleaner had fallen apart and left some ashes on the floor of the chimney. Some sparks caught on fire and it spread up the chimney and up all three floors," he said.

The two cats were missing until late Tuesday afternoon, when neighbors helped find the pets hiding under a garage separate from the house, Raley said.

"The neighbors here are really wonderful. They all pitched in, opened their garage doors and put out blankets," she said.

One neighbor, Linda Agren, said she saw the house burn and tried to comfort Shellen Masterman.

"It's so sad. They had a pellet stove and those are supposed to burn clean. It shouldn't have happened," Agren said.

Rundlett said that the damage to the home was extensive and that firefighters had to tear off part of the building's roof to put out the fire.

Raley said she was able to save some of the family photos and some of Shellen's jewelry, but not much else.

"I don't even know what to say. I'm just happy everybody got out," she said.

Raley said that after the fire, Fionna turned to her mother and said the same thing.

"She said, 'It makes you realize you don't need all this stuff.' What she discovered was she wasn't all that upset about her stuff, she was just so happy to be alive. It was an amazing insight for an 8-year-old," said the grandmother.

The family was insured and they will be staying with Adam Masterman's parents, said Raley.

Firefighters from Anson, Farmington, Kingfield and New Vineyard responded, as well as Sugarloaf Rescue.

Rachel Ohm -- 612-2368
rohm@mainetoday.com

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