SUMNER — Extreme temperatures, ice-covered roads, frozen lines and freezing pumps created real challenges for volunteer firefighters very early Thanksgiving morning as they battled two house fires within hours of each other, the first in Sumner and a second in Dixfield.

That was doubly true for volunteers from Peru and Canton who responded to both fires, getting the call to Dixfield just hours after they had finished cleaning up and thawing their equipment from the blaze in Sumner.

Canton Fire Chief Jason Vaughan said the desire to help people keeps his volunteers motivated, including those who responded to a third call on Thanksgiving for a minor rollover accident on Route 108 around 7:30 p.m.

In Sumner, the Gould family was returning to their Gammon Road home just after 12:30 a.m. Thursday and saw the house on fire as they turned into the drive. Fire officials aren’t sure how long the fire had been burning because the house sits back off the road and there isn’t much traffic on this road late at night.

The house, which is owned by Dennis Gould, according to tax records, sits on just over 2 acres next to the east branch of the Nezinscot River.

According to Kelly Stewart, a selectman and the Fire Department’s safety officer, by the time firefighters arrived the house was clearly a loss so they worked to contain the flames from reaching nearby woods and an unattached garage.

She said the snow helped keep the fire contained, preventing flames from moving across the ground.

Tanker trucks had to maneuver along a very narrow bridge and roadway to access water from the Nezinscot, with very limited room to navigate the road and get back up the driveway.

The temperature was about 5 degrees, Stewart said, which caused some lines to freeze up.

And as firefighters sprayed down the house, “all the trees were all frozen from spray from the lines,” Stewart said. “It was rather eerie.”

One corner of the house remained smoldering late morning Friday, and trees and brush along the river were still bending over the river, heavy with layers of ice.

According to Stewart, the family is staying with relatives.

Firefighters from six departments worked in Sumner for nearly five hours to contain the blaze, before some of the departments were let go. Several hours later, after some volunteers had gone home to sleep and others had gone to firehouses to clean equipment, another call came in for a house fire in Dixfield.

According to Peru Fire Chief William Hussey, eight of his volunteers who had been at Sumner went to Dixfield. Between the two calls, he estimated the men spent nearly 10 hours Thursday battling fires.

As did eight to 10 Canton volunteers, who provided tanker support and manpower at both calls.

The biggest challenge in Sumner, besides keeping the lines and tanker pumps from freezing, was the slippery conditions underfoot as firefighters sprayed water on the buildings and oversprayed beyond the buildings to keep flames from spreading, Hussey said.

Even getting to the fires was tough, he said, because the roads were snow-covered with a bit of sand. “I didn’t go very fast” to get to the Sumner fire, he said, “because when you’re hauling water there’s always water on the ground.”

That water built up into layers of ice over the hours, causing very slippery conditions.

“It was cold. You had to stay moving to keep warm,” Hussey said, and firefighters nearest the blaze who were wearing air packs were getting wet from the spray and had to repeatedly be warmed.

At one point, Hussey said he saw a pump operator take some RV antifreeze and spray it on his control panel so it wouldn’t freeze.

In Dixfield, a family of three, including an infant, escaped without injury from their home on Canton Point Road after fire started in a pipe running off a wood stove. A dog also made it out of the burning home.

As with the Sumner property, the home was engulfed in flames before firefighters arrived and the house was destroyed.

Dixfield fire Chief Scott Dennett said the home at 1246 Canton Point Road, owned by Dennis Swan, was destroyed in the blaze. He said three dozen firefighters, from Dixfield, Canton, Mexico and East Dixfield, battled the fire.

Another challenge, according to Canton Chief Vaughan, was the lack of sleep between the two calls.

“We want to help people,” he said of volunteer firefighters, who are paid on stipend. “Money is definitely not why anybody’s here. It’s wanting to help people. I just wish we had more to help that way,” he said.

“None of us have time to do this. We make time to do it. We all work full-time jobs and we make time for the things that are important to us,” like being available around the clock for emergency calls.

Vaughan remembers a few years ago when “we all ran out of the house on Christmas morning to battle a structure fire. We do what we’ve got to do.”

Departments that responded to the Sumner fire included Sumner, Buckfield, West Paris, Paris, Canton, Turner and Peru. In all, there were more than 30 firefighters at the scene.

Stewart and Hussey both said they felt bad for the families who were displaced, especially at this time of year.

Early Friday, the Sumner Fire Department Auxiliary had already started setting up details for a fundraiser for the family, which will be coordinated through the Town Office. For details, call 207-388-2866.

In the meantime, Stewart said, if people want to help, the family could use gift cards and cash donations to replace items that their family is not able to help with.

In Dixfield, Fire Chief Dennett said a local pantry has offered to help the Swan family with clothes and other items. A representative from the American Red Cross said they are also helping the family, who was said to be staying with relatives on Friday.

Staff Writer Mark LaFlamme contributed to this report.

The Gould home on Gammon Road in Sumner was destroyed by fire very early Thanksgiving morning. The family was pulling into the driveway when they saw the house was burning, and called for help. Firefighters from seven departments responded but were unable to save the building. Midmorning on Friday, one corner of the house was still smoldering. (Judith Meyer/Sun Journal)

A fire Thursday morning destroyed a mobile home on Canton Point Road in Dixfield. The family, including an infant and a dog, escaped unharmed. (Dixfield Fire Department photo)


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