OXFORD – An Oxford couple, who moved from Mexico into their dream home here 28 days ago, escaped the historic 2-story Victorian house Friday night as flames from the kitchen spread.

Arthur Duchemin and Carol Byram were unhurt as fire engulfed the kitchen area of the 1860s home at 13 Allen Hill Road near Route 121 in the village.

“We could see it just spread right through. That’s about the fastest I’ve ever seen one go,” said Oxford police Sgt. Rickie Jack who responded to the call about 8 p.m.

Fire Department Lt. Steve Cordwell said three-quarters of the house was destroyed.

“They were watching television and they heard a pop,” Jack said.

Cordwell said the couple told him it started in the kitchen as a cooking fire.

“They were both at the front steps and we assisted them away from the scene” (on arrival),” he said.

He said Duchemin has chronic breathing problems, and had several oxygen tanks in the front part of house away from the kitchen.

Firefighters decided to attack flames from the outside as a precaution before the tanks were retrieved.

“We lucked out there. The oxygen tank has a couple thousand pounds of pressure on it,” Cordwell said.

“It’s an old house. It spreads fast.

“They kept the fire out of the front of the house,” the lieutenant said, but they also had to break windows, cut holes in the roof and there is water damage.

Cordwell said three-quarters of the house is gone.

Duchemin was hospitalized due to his oxygen needs.

Firefighters from Oxford, Norway, Mechanic Falls Otisfield, Paris and Hebron responded to the call for aid, along with police.

Next-door neighbor and town historian John Crumpton, who lives in a large brick home above the fire scene, spotted the blaze just as police arrived on the scene.

“It started in the back away from the road” where the kitchen is located, he said in a phone interview Friday night. “There was a small fire in the back corner of the house away from the road, and it spread awfully fast,” damaging the main part of the house. “It looks like it’s still burning occasionally,” he said at 9:30 p.m., more than 90 minutes after the call was made to firefighters.

The 1-story wood-framed home sits at the bottom of Allen Hill in the village.

It was built in about 1866 for George F. Walker, a Westbrook native and village trader, according to Randall Bennett’s book, “Oxford County: A Guide to its Historic Architecture.”

It was known as the Walker-Frost home, Crumpton said.

The house “‘attains its Gothic quality more from its steeply pitched multigabled roof and narrowed proportion than from any profusion of decorative detail,'” he read from Bennett’s book. The home featured a double-door front entryway, large bay windows, round arch window openings, intricate moldings on windows and eaves.

Bennett mentioned in his book that the in its prime, the property had landscaped grounds and a large attached barn, which was torn down in 1979.

After the Walkers moved to Portland in 1888, there were a succession of owners, including the grandparents and parents of Norman Jackson of North Norway.

“It was the only home that my mother actually knew,” he said Friday night of Caribel Jackson. “She was born there.”

Caribel and Ralph Jackson bought the property in about 1929, he said, from her parents and raised their three children.

“It the only home us three children ever knew,” also, said the 64-year-old former occupant.

After Ralph Jackson died in 1990 and Caribel moved to Paris, the house was purchased by Becky Butler Laliberte, who with family modernized it and painted it, Crumpton said.

“She put a tremendous amount of money into that house to make quite a show piece out of it,” Jackson said. “When they fixed it up, I was so happy.”

Laliberte sold it in July 1998 to Cris Knight, who continued renovations to the five downstairs rooms and three bedrooms upstairs.

She sold the home last month to Duchemin and Byram of Mexico, and the couple moved in March 1 in a snowstorm, Knight said Friday night from her new home in Phoenix, Ariz.

“My first thought was Carol and how excited they were to finally have a home. That just breaks my heart,” Knight said.

Knight said she talked to Byram during the fire Friday night and was told that the family’s dog was safe and the house was insured.

“I’m sick. I’m just heartsick,” Knight said. “Her dream was to have a Victorian home. They weren’t even unpacked yet.”

Her voice trembling, Knight said she told Byram, “God is watching over you, and it doesn’t seem like it is but He is.”


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