Training/Planning Pays Off During Maine Fire

April 30, 2008
Teams from 10 departments worked to save what many consider a national treasure.

LIVERMORE - Firefighters' preplanning and training for a possible fire at Washburn-Norlands Living History Center paid off Monday night when teams from 10 departments worked to save what many consider a national treasure.

The 1867 Italianate mansion and attached caretaker's living quarters were preserved with some slight smoke and water damage to the caretaker's quarters.

The 100- by 30-foot, three-story barn and farmer's cottage and upstairs bedrooms were destroyed by a fire that started accidentally from a heat lamp left on to keep a sow pig and her 18 newborn piglets warm, fire Chief Donald Castonguay said.

The pigs and some chickens died in the fire, but the cattle and sheep survived, Norlands volunteer coordinator and operating Director Nancey Drinkwine said.

Assistant fire Chief Andrew Berry, a neighbor to Norlands, said when he got the fire call he headed right out.

When he rounded the corner he looked back over his shoulder and could see the flames leaping from the building. He got on the radio and called for immediate mutual aid as well as any other department that could come that had the equipment and trucks he needed, especially tankers to haul water from ponds and a stream. He also called Livermore Falls emergency dispatch and asked to find someone with an excavator.

Jean Castonguay of Livermore Falls had his excavator already loaded on the trailer and was about 30 minutes out.

Berry had Castonguay rip off the burning farmer's cottage and the barn to save the main house.

"I was very pleased we got real quick response out of mutual aid," Berry said. "We couldn't have done it by ourselves."

About 100 firefighters responded from Livermore, Jay, Livermore Falls, Leeds, Turner, Wilton, New Sharon, Temple, Farmington and East Dixfield to pitch in. Canton firefighters were on the scene Tuesday morning helping Livermore's department.

"My main concern was we had such a strong wind. It was blowing toward the house at kind of an angle. My main goal was to stop it before it hit the mansion. We have preplanned fighting the fire," he said.

"There was a little bit of a separation between the barn and the farmer's cottage," Berry said. It was a space that was covered over and attached to both.

"That allowed us to slow (the fire) down quite a bit," he said, "but it spilled into the attic above the caretaker's living quarters and with the wind driving the fire we tried to stay one step ahead. We wrote off the barn immediately, and I told the guys this is where we're going to stop it. It stopped where I wanted it to."

They cut a vent in the attic above the living quarters and used positive air pressure in doors of the mansion to help stave off the fire. They also put in some roof trenches and kept pouring the water on the buildings, Castonguay said.

"We had such strong winds I was concerned we were not going to be able to stop it from reaching the mansion," he said.

Firefighters and volunteers carried historical artifacts from the first floor of the mansion to the church across the driveway. The only thing that wasn't moved was a Rosewood piano.

Firefighters lost water pressure for a short time and Berry sounded the alarm for everybody to get out. Firefighters regrouped and restarted their efforts.

"We have to do a lot of training and the training paid off," Berry said. "We couldn't have done it without mutual aid. We couldn't do it by ourselves."

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