MECHANIC FALLS — A local man who offered to help the victim of a nearby house fire Monday afternoon called the Fire Department on Tuesday when his garage caught fire.
"I'm the cause of it," Robert Russell said Tuesday night of the blaze that destroyed the 1½-story, wood-framed garage at 39 Jordan Road. The building and nearby home belong to his partner, Christine Smith, he said.
Russell said he was working on his snowmobile in the garage at about 4:30 p.m. when an electrical wire sparked, igniting gasoline on the running board.
"I grabbed the fire extinguisher and pulled the pin," he said, but the extinguisher didn't work.
He ran into the house to tell Smith to call 911, but apparently left the garage door open, which "really fed the fire" with a rush of fresh air. Flames quickly consumed the snowmobile.
Russell said he ran into the garage, which was filling with flames, and attempted to use a second extinguisher. It almost completely extinguished the fire before it ran out, he said.
He suffered a "little burn" on his arm after his shirt sleeve caught fire, he said.
Two six-gallon cans, one with gas and the other with diesel fuel, ignited, along with paint and other chemicals, he said.
Russell said he next moved the couple's two vehicles and a tractor away from the garage.
"It took 20 to 30 minutes for the initial knockdown," said Capt. Wade Boston of the Mechanic Falls Fire Department, and another three and a half hours to "mop up."
Boston said about 25 firefighters from Mechanic Falls, Auburn, Minot, Poland, Oxford and Norway worked at the scene, some until 8:30 p.m.
"At least we didn't have the winds, like yesterday, to deal with," he said.
Boston said "a lot" of tankers were involved because the home was outside public water access.
He estimated the loss of the garage at about $25,000 to $30,000.
Although the building was insured, Russell said he couldn't put a price on his large train set and many tools that were inside it.
An electrician remained behind Tuesday evening to rewire the couple's well pump to restore water service to the home.
"You look back and say, 'I wish I hadn't done this or that'," Russell said with a sigh.
He recalled how the day before he went to the victims of a house fire on Route 121 a mile or so away to offer them help, but "there was nothing I could do."