Volunteer fire departments have been running full steam over the last week as a string of fires in Western and Central Maine.
At least six buildings have been destroyed by fire since last Tuesday, including homes in Readfield, Wilton, Otisfield, Harrison and West Paris, and commercial buildings in Norway and Bridgton. Fire crews have also been called to smaller fires at homes in Norway and Phillips, and a controversial proposed slaughterhouse in Auburn.
"Oh my word. We've been very, very busy," Paris Fire Chief Brad Frost said.
His staff has responded to fires in West Paris, Norway, Oxford and Otisfield. Already, this February, the Paris department has responded to 17 calls, following 36 calls in January.
The volunteer Harrison department has responded to four major fires in the last week, according to Fire Chief Scott Andrews. "If we get one or two structure fires a year, that's normal," he said.
Norway crews logged 153 man-hours at one fire this week, 100 at another, Fire Chief Dennis Yates said.
Local fire chiefs have been unable to pinpoint a single cause for the unusual string of recent fires, and indeed, there doesn't seem to be one. Several were caused by accidents and human oversight, including a Wilton home fire apparently started by a candle Wednesday. Sunday's fire in West Paris began when the occupant emptied his wood stove and forgot the bucket of ashes on the floor, Paris chief Brad Frost said.
The blaze that demolished the Oxford Pine Products building on Marston Street in Norway last Tuesday had an electrical cause, Norway chief Dennis Yates said.
Two fires, at homes in Harrison and Otisfield, damaged the buildings so badly that investigators were unable to determine what caused the infernos. Two other fires, including one last Tuesday at the site of a proposed slaughterhouse on the edge of Auburn and another at a Readfield home that was also the scene of a homicide and robbery, were ruled arson.
A Massachusetts man, David Silva, 32, has been charged with the Readfield arson, in addition to robbery and the murder of the home's owner, Robert Orr, 53.
Police continue to investigate the Auburn arson, and have made no arrests in connection to the blaze, Auburn Deputy Chief Jason Moen said.
The Norway and Paris fire departments caught a lucky break Monday morning, when a supposed structure fire at 367 Pikes Hill Road turned out to be just a chair, set smoldering overnight by a cigarette, Norway chief Yates said. The slow-burning furniture filled the home's upper level with smoke until owner Suzanne Martin's dog Abby woke her up with its barking. Martin threw the chair out a second-floor door made for a balcony that was never built.
"We didn't use any water to put the fire out, really, just snow," Yates said. "I told (Martin), 'You ought to give the dog a bone today. She deserved it,'" he said.
While the Norway furniture fire was easily dealt with, the 6 a.m. call, on top of the previous weeks' blazes, left firefighters fatigued. "They're tired, but we're fine," Yates said.
"We've been on the go," Paris chief Frost said. "It would be nice to get a few days off."