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by Anne Berleant
An overheated woodstove in the basement of an unoccupied Pleasant Street house was the “most probable cause” of a January 17 fire that demolished the structure, said Blue Hill Fire Chief Dennis Robertson.
“We’ll never know. There was too much heat,” he said.
The Blue Hill Fire Department responded to the call around 10:45 p.m., as did the Penobscot and Sedgwick departments. In all, it took six local fire departments and 20 hours to put out the fire completely.
Initially, three Blue Hill firefighters entered the building on the first story, but the heat had turned the floor “spongy—at that point, it wasn’t safe,” Robertson said, so firefighters mounted an exterior attack.
At that time, they still didn’t know if anyone was inside the house. While the Hancock County Sheriff’s Department tried to locate owner Katie Wiberg, firefighters broke through an exterior sliding glass door and “attacked the fire from there,” Robertson said. “By that time, the fire was in the attic.”
Wood stacked in the basement fueled the blaze, causing such intense heat that the fire burned a hole straight up through the building, Robertson said.
“Every time we knocked it down, the fire came right back up the hole,” Robertson said.
Blue Hill Road Commissioner Billy Cousins used a backhoe to create an opening wide enough to fight the fire. “It was getting dicey,” said Robertson.
Firefighters learned that the house was definitely unoccupied around 2 a.m., when the sheriff’s department located Wiberg, who was not staying at the house.
“It was a relief to know no people or pets were in there,” Robertson said. “We would have been too late.”
Wiberg had been at the home around 9 p.m. on January 17, he said, when, out of heating oil, she “banked [the stove] full overnight…that’s when things went south.”
The state fire marshal interviewed Wiberg at the scene that morning, Robertson said.
Robertson said that, in all, firefighters were called back three times in order to completely extinguish the fire, which didn’t happen until 6 p.m. on January 18.
A locked front door and frigid temperatures made fighting the fire difficult, Robertson said. “We had four trucks freeze up…Brooklin sent a truck and she froze up and broke.”