Two fires on the same night

By Lisa Williams Ackley
Staff Writer

Firefighters from several mutual aid towns managed to save two homes Thursday night — one on Main Street in Lovell and another on Route 5/113 in Brownfield.

Lovell Fire Chief Tommie McKenzie said 15-year-old Jennifer Sundgren came home from school March 3 “and saw smoke coming from the back of the barn,

A FIRE THAT BROKE OUT IN LOVELL — Thursday afternoon destroyed a barn and attached ell at 119 Main Street, but firefighters managed to save the one-and-a-half-story, wood-frame house that was once lived in by Charlotte Hobbs, for whom the local library is named. (Photo courtesy of Roger Williams)

and she went out to investigate and found that it was on fire and called 9-1-1. At the same time, a neighbor noticed the barn was on fire and also called 9-1-1.”

The one-and-one-half-story, wood-framed house is over 200 years old and the former home of Lovell native Charlotte Hobbs, the benefactor of the local public library, who died at age 90 in 1969.

“When we arrived, the one-and-one-half-story barn was fully involved in flames, and it was attached to the house by an ell, and the fire was proceeding toward the house in the ell,” Fire Chief McKenzie said. “We were able to attack the fire in the one-story ell and keep it in the ell and save the house.”

“Nobody was injured.” McKenzie said. “There were three cats in the house, and two escaped, and the fire department was able to rescue the third one.”

The fire chief said the barn was used as a workshop and to store equipment. A 1997 Chevrolet Tahoe, a snowmobile and snowblower were lost in the fire, he said.

As to both the Lovell fire and the Brownfield fire, Shepard said, “The fire departments did an incredible job, in saving the two homes. Both stops were really impressive.”

Geoffrey Sundgren and his wife and two children were renting the home, which is owned by Bruce Urquhart, according to the fire chief.

McKenzie said both the barn and the ell were “totally destroyed.” He estimated the damage at between $80,000 and $100,000.

A total of 35 firefighters from Lovell, Fryeburg, Stoneham, East Conway and Center Conway, N.H., arrived at the scene with nine fire engines, six tanker trucks, two squad trucks and a ladder truck to battle the blaze. Two rescue units also responded to the fire that was brought under control at 6:34 p.m., according to Chief McKenzie. Firefighters remained at the scene until 9:15 p.m., the fire chief said.

“The crew did a tremendous job, before it could involve the house,” Chief McKenzie stated. “The American Red Cross is assisting the family, and they are staying with friends in the area.”

Investigator Rick Shepard of the State Fire Marshal’s Office said the cause of the fire is not suspicious but has been labeled “undetermined”, as “there was extensive damage, and we were unable to eliminate potential causes, because there was so much damage to the barn.”

Brownfield home saved the same night

Cynthia Eaton said she couldn’t believe it, when her two-story house caught on fire Thursday night.

Five years ago, on Feb. 16, the large barn at her property on Routes 5/113 was destroyed by fire.

Then, around 8:30 on the evening of March 3, Eaton walked in from outside through the door in to her dining room and saw that “fire was coming out of the cold air return for the furnace!”

Before firefighters could arrive on the scene, Eaton’s boyfriend, John Stearns, and her son, Bob Burnell, used water to try to quell the fire.

“My son was putting water down the cold air return, and John had a hose in the basement trying to put it out down there,” Eaton said, Tuesday morning. “I called 9-1-1 from the house.”

“We found all three dogs that were in the house,” Eaton said. “We have three cats, and we found one cat, but we couldn’t find the other two.” The other two cats did show up later on, she said.

Neither the house nor its contents were insured, according to Eaton.

Investigator Rick Shepard of the State Fire Marshal’s Office said Tuesday that the cause of the fire is not suspicious in nature.

“It was an accidentally caused fire that ignited at the furnace and oil caught on fire,” Investigator Shepard said March 8.

Eaton, whose late father Wally Eaton was a longtime fire chief in Brownfield, said, “This house survived the Great Fire of ’47 — it was one of the few houses that did.” The home was built in the late 1800s and has been owned by the Eaton family since the 1930s, she said.

“The fire stayed right in the center of the house, near the chimney and the built-in china closet in the hallway,” the 47-year-old Eaton said. “There is smoke damage to all of the rooms and water damage to five rooms and in the basement.”

“My grandmother saved a certificate awarded to my grandfather by President Lyndon B. Johnson honoring him for his service during World War I,” said Eaton. “There was a lot of smoke, and fire was all around it.

Eaton said she was about to receive over 400 boxes of Girl Scout cookies for distribution by her troop. However, she said a neighbor had offered his workshop to store the cookies.

“Just like the Girl Scouts, I’ve always got to be prepared,” Eaton said, with a chuckle, her sense of humor obviously still intact.

“I’m just lucky,” said Eaton. “Between what John and Bob did and the fire department, it’s not as bad as it could have been. My dad always said, because this house was balloon-style (construction), to just get out if it ever caught fire, because it’s going to go. So, I just thought it was going to go,” she said. “I don’t know if my Dad was up there looking down on it or what, because there’s no rhyme or reason why it’s still standing.”

“They did an awesome job,” Eaton said, of the firefighters from Brownfield and surrounding mutual aid towns that saved her home. “There are pictures on the wall that have no water damage, and on the mantle in the living room there is an aerial photo of our house that is untouched.”

Eaton, Stearns, Burnell, and Burnell’s girlfriend, Laura Smith, are staying in a camper on the property.

“It’s a little close, with the three dogs and three cats,” Eaton said.

Asked if they are in need of any assistance, Eaton replied, “We’re all set with clothes and everything, but we could use help with carpentry and hauling stuff away.” Call Eaton at 890-5313, if you are able to offer assistance.

Investigator Shepard advised that it “is not a wise thing to do,” when people try to extinguish a fire themselves.

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