Fire and freeze takes historic home

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GREENWOOD – Freezing temperatures and a frantic search for a missing teenager hindered firefighters Friday morning as they tried in vain to save an historic home in the village of Locke Mills from an intense blaze.

The son of the home’s owners, Mark and Tammy Huston, was eventually located, but not in their house at 241 Main St. Greenwood Fire Chief Jim Owens said he was not sure where he was found, or whether he had been in the house at all that night.

No one in the family was injured, but two Woodstock firefighters were taken to Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway for treatment of smoke inhalation and released, Owens said.

The more than 150-year-old homestead included a two-story colonial house and an attached ell hooked to a two-story barn, Assistant Fire Chief Al Curtis Jr. said. It is believed the property was insured, he added.

Oddly, firefighters were called to the house two times Friday morning, the first to put out a fire in a chimney connected to a wood stove. After extinguishing it and returning to the fire station, they were called back to the house 15 to 20 minutes later, Owens said.

“There’s nothing they could have done, these guys go on chimney fires all the time, they know not to just run off. They were there for an hour, an hour and a half. They left and were satisfied,” Owens said.

He said firefighters checked the walls for heat after extinguishing the chimney fire, as well as inspected the chimney to ensure there was no undetected smoldering ash. As an old house, it was not built to code, Owens said.

When they returned, the house was thick with smoke. Four firefighters were dispatched inside to hunt for the missing teen. Owens calculated this put them roughly 20 minutes behind.

“One of the challenges we had was the temperature was 10 degrees below zero,” Owens said. “We had numerous firetrucks that froze up. There was also a delay because we had a report that the teenage boy was still in the building, and the fire got out of control during the search for the boy.

“He was reported to be out riding his ATV,” he said, adding that the information was unverified. It was later reported the teen was at a friend’s house.

Also, the pumps on many of the firetrucks were so frozen they would not work. Firetrucks from Paris and Woodstock that were still operating in the cold eventually arrived and contributed to the effort.

Meanwhile, Route 26 was shut down for five hours, from 5:30 to 10:30 a.m., and drivers were rerouted at Gore Road and East Bethel Road.

By midmorning Friday, an excavator tore down the building’s remaining walls while volunteer firefighters continued to hit “hot spots” with water, which quickly froze.

“As a fire chief, I want things to be A, B, C, D, but the world is not perfect and it had nothing to do with our training and equipment,” Owens said. “There may be a few things we can change. We’re going to look into installing some heaters on the trucks.”

It is believed the Hustons are staying with a brother in Greenwood but attempts to reach them for comment were unsuccessful Friday.

The house, built between 1840 and 1850, was the home to a series of grist millers and had nearly burned two times before, said Blaine Mills, vice president of the Greenwood Historical Society.

“Locke Mills village is almost gone, and none of us like to see another building gone,” Mills said. “Those of us who have lived here all our lives – we’ve watched the village disappear over the years.”

In 1879 three nearby houses burned and the miller’s home was also threatened and “scorched,” Mills said.

“They were finally able to throw buckets of water on it and save it,” Mills said.

Another fire in the home sometime in the 1920s took the life of Lawrence Tebbetts who was smoking in bed.

“The bed caught fire, and he died of his burns but they were able to save the house,” Mills said. Another Tebbett, Lawrence’s brother Charles, also died at the home of influenza during the pandemic of 1917, Mills said.

The Tebbetts family continued to own the house into the 1960s and when it was sold to at least two other families before the Hustons bought it, Mills said.

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