NEW VINEYARD — Roger and Doreen Merrill, who lost everything when their home burned down last week, are still stunned but thankful for many things.
"My family got out," Roger said. "That's all that really matters."
Doreen said she woke to the sound of the smoke alarms "screaming," some time after falling asleep Monday, Feb. 7.
Her husband was not there, being a night shift worker at Stratton Lumber.
"I opened the bedroom door and smelled smoke right away," Doreen said. "The first thing I did was run to the room where our dogs sleep and got them out. I could see flames in the kitchen. I ran for the fire extinguisher, but I couldn't pull the pin."
"I know it was wrong, believe me, nobody will let me hear the end of it, but I then ran back upstairs to grab a basket of photos I have," Doreen said. "That was the first thing on my mind because we had lost everything in a fire in 1993 and I didn't want to lose those things again. I know I shouldn't have done it."
Doreen said by that time she was having trouble breathing.
"I was barefoot with just my nightgown on and I pulled the nightgown up over my nose and mouth, but I still couldn't breath so I knew I had to get out," she said. "I was in a pure panic."
She said she got out of the house and was calling 911 when the windows started blowing out.
"The first thing the dispatcher said was, 'Get out of the house!' I was already out, but I was thinking seriously about going to the basement for our cat, but common sense set in," she said as a tear rolled down her face. "His name was Chevy. We'd had him since 1997."
Emotions were still very close to the surface for both Roger and Doreen as they thought back to that night.
Roger said there are only two men on the night shift at work, so it was a miracle that he happened by the office where the phone was. He got two calls in a row. First from his mother and then from Doreen.
"So at least I knew that Doreen and the dogs were out as I drove home," Roger said. "It just turned me numb. I thought, 'Oh no. Not a second time.'"
Once at the scene, he went directly to the ambulance where Doreen was being checked for smoke inhalation.
"I went in and calmed her down," Roger said. "She was quite hysterical."
"I so needed my husband," Doreen said. "We?ve been married 28 years in July. He's everything to me. He's my rock."
Roger said when he got out to take a look at the burning house he was stunned as it was fully engulfed.
"I was just a zombie," he said. "But I kept telling myself that my wife was okay and that's all that really mattered when you get right down to it."
"I want to tell everybody to please, please check your smoke alarm batteries because I would not have woken up without them," Doreen said.
New Vineyard Fire Chief Doug Churchill lives just a few doors down from the Merrills and he said when he looked out his window he could see the glow from the burning building.
"He came directly here instead of going to the fire station to make sure I was out of the building," Doreen said. "He had me move the vehicles."
Churchill said the call came in at 12:04 a.m. and the structure was fully engulfed when firefighters arrived
"The garage was saved, but the house is a total loss," Churchill said. "The fire marshall has done an inspection and it's been determined that it started in the area of the woodstove, but there is too much damage to determine the exact cause."
Churchill said 40 firefighters from New Vineyard, Strong, New Portland, Farmington and North Anson responded and he started sending everyone but New Vineyard and New Portland firefighters home around 2:30 a.m., and the others stayed until 5 a.m., putting out hot spots.
Roger and Doreen stayed for a few days with his parents and are now staying at her parents' house since they are staying at their camp.
The couple's heads are really still spinning as they deal with insurance adjusters, the fire marshall's office, calls and visits from family and friends and, of course, trying to plan what they'll do next.
To add to their stress, they just found out since the fire that two of their sons who serve in the U.S. Air Force will be shipping out to Iraq soon.
"We support them fully but we have to get busy and have a place to live because the daughter-in-laws will be coming to stay with us while they're gone," Doreen said, adding that it will be nice to be with her daughters-in-law in the months to come.
The couple said help has been pouring in and they are extremely grateful.
Doreen said she and Roger were making a pro and cons list about whether or not they want to rebuild on the same spot they've been burned out of twice.
"I'm not for it after two fires," Roger said, "but Doreen is attached to the property because we raised our kids here."
"But he won me over,? Doreen said. "He said, 'Memories are mobile!'"