House destroyed by fire

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WELD – Firefighters were unable to save a Weld man’s house from being destroyed by fire Tuesday night, soon after he returned home from a trip to Cape Cod. The cause is still unknown.

Sitting on wood blocks Wednesday in what was his side yard, former town constable Lee Buck squinted at the still-smoldering remains of his home and explained, all in all, he’s not heartbroken about the fire.

“I’m just glad nothing was lost except stuff,” he said. It was a close call.

Returning home tired after being stuck in a lengthy traffic jam on Boston’s Southeast Expressway, Buck said he had planned to take a shower, but decided to lie down and rest a few minutes first. That was about 8 p.m. By 8:20, his home had been destroyed.

It’s possible his decision not to take a shower saved his life. He smelled smoke soon after the fire started and found a phone to dial 911. He took a deep breath, reached for his cat, but couldn’t find her. Then he reached for his pants, took another deep breath, and ran.

He said his wife, Susan, who was at work Tuesday with the Legislature in Augusta, was upset about all the family heirlooms lost in the blaze, including photos of their children, and pewter and silver brought from Scotland long ago.

To that, an onlooker said something she took away from Tuesday’s fire was to have a grab box ready in case her house burns.

“I had one,” Buck said, “within 3 feet of my pants. But that smoke hits you, you say to yourself, do you want to stay here forever, or do you want to get out?'”

Weld firefighter Corey Hutchinson explained the Bucks’ home – one of the oldest in town and made almost entirely of wood – went up in flames so fast firefighters could hardly believe it. In the few minutes between getting the call from Buck and arriving at the house, Hutchinson said, the home was “engulfed so bad we couldn’t even attempt to go into the building. It had caught so fast, the best we could do was protect the surrounding exposures, make sure everyone was safe.” The fire burned telephone, electrical and cable lines running along Church Street, though by Wednesday afternoon all service was back to normal in town.

Hutchinson said no one knows yet what caused the fire, but “some thought it might have been caused by a gas-fired water heater.”

In addition to firefighters from Weld, members of the Wilton, Dixfield, East Dixfield and Carthage departments arrived on the scene so quickly Buck and neighbor Kevin Frey were astonished. The fire was under control a couple hours after firefighters arrived, but smoldered into the night. Members of the Weld department stayed on until nearly 10 a.m. Wednesday.

At 5 p.m., the ruins of Buck’s home were still smoking, and now and then a few flames shot up from the pile of ash and debris the firefighters had made. Buck sat watching it, grimy in the clothes he ran out in last night. Only his feet, sock-less in the gleaming black sneakers he had bought after the slippers he was wearing Tuesday night started falling off his feet, looked untouched by the soot.

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