Damien Gould, 13, gives his mother, Jessica Gould, a hug as they sit with their dog, Finley, in their Auburn motel room. The family spent almost a month at the motel after their Lewiston home caught fire for the third time in two years on March 30. Sun Journal photo by Daryn Slover

LEWISTON — Chris and Jessica Gould have had three house fires in two years at 14 Brule St.

The Gould family home on Brule Street in Lewiston has been damaged by fire three times since April 11, 2017. (Sun Journal photo by Daryn Slover)

A rented washer burst into flames after three days. A fire started on their son’s bed where a laptop had been charging while he was at school.

Then the worst one a month ago, a fire that started in the basement, where a freezer and security camera were running, its cause undetermined, according to a fire official.

Alone in the house at the time, Jessica credits her dead father’s voice with saving her on March 30, spurring her on in the smoke-filled darkness, telling her to get to a window, where she lost consciousness, popped out the screen and fell into the bushes below.

“I’ve always said what I would give to hear my dad’s voice again,” said Jessica, 35. “Apparently I had to almost give my life.”

As she recovers from smoke inhalation, the couple and their 13-year-old son, Damien, ask why them — in lighter moments, there are half-jokes about the house having been built on haunted ground — and they wrestle with moving forward. They can’t imagine living in that house again, but with a tight-knit neighborhood, in a home they’ve owned for 11 years, they also can’t imagine not.

For the past four weeks, the family had been staying at the Residence Inn by Marriott in Auburn with their dog, Finley, who alerted them to all three fires, and their cat Star, recovering from burns on her paws.

Jessica Gould, her husband Chris Gould, background in doorway, and son Damien, not pictured, moved into a new camper that is parked outside Chris’ scrap metal shop on Sabattus Street. The monthly payments are much less than what they were paying to stay in an Auburn motel for almost a month. Sun Journal photo by Daryn Slover

On Monday, they moved into a new 38-foot camper with three smoke alarms, parked outside Chris’ scrap metal shop on Sabattus Street.

“It has a carbon monoxide detector, all of that, just because I’m so paranoid right now it’s not even funny,” Jessica said Friday.

In the unusual spot of back-to-back fires, they’ve landed in an unusual waiting game.

“The (insurance) case hasn’t been closed on the laptop fire yet, so they can’t open a new case, therefore they can’t pay anything out,” said Chris, 36.

The family has fronted the costs of the motel and the clothes they’ve slowly started to replace on a credit card, which is almost maxed out. They’ve started a GoFundMe campaign for help in the interim.

They’re hoping to someday get reimbursed by insurance and someday find out what’s wrong with their house.

“It sounds weird me saying this: I want to know what tried to kill me,” Jessica said. “I want to know exactly what point of my house, like, what caused it, why it happened, and what point I can take a sledge hammer to, to put it nicely. When demo starts, I want to be the one to hit that spot.”

‘HE DOES NOT LIKE FIRE’

Their two-story home was built in 1951. The couple chose it for its ideal location — he’s from Ellsworth, she’s from Western Maine, this felt like a good in-between. They fell in love with the neighborhood. It’s a place where people swap house keys and celebrate birthdays together.

The first fire broke out April 11, 2017. Jessica had just started a second load of laundry and headed off on foot for Dollar General. With frequent seizures and other health issues over the past decade, she’d given up driving.

Damien Gould, 13, gives Finley attention in their Auburn motel room. Gould is a student at Oak Hill Middle School. Sun Journal photo by Daryn Slover

Within 20 minutes, Chris was calling the store to reach her.

He had been in the yard when Finley got his attention, “howling like a coyote and yelping,” he said.

The dog had been a rescue whose first owner soaked his collar in gasoline as a pup and lit it, Jessica said. “He does not like fires.”

Chris said he explored the house until he opened the door to the washer and “the flames and smoke came over my head.”

They lost the laundry room and bathroom to fire, water damaged the living room and smoke filled the house. The family spent eight months in a camper on the lawn during the slow claim and repair process.

The morning of Feb. 15, 2019, Chris left for work at his scrap metal company, Gould Enterprises, and took Damien to school. The dog got Jessica’s attention while she was drying her hair.

The Gould family is hoping to move back to their Brule Street neighborhood in Lewiston. Sun Journal photo by Daryn Slover

“You could actually hear (the smoke detector near her son’s room) saying ‘fire’ and beeping,” she said. “I went around to the bottom of the stairs, looked up, and you could only see black smoke. You couldn’t even see the molding. It was straight, black smoke. I grabbed the cat and the dog and called 911 as I was headed out the door.”

Damien’s laptop had been left on his bed, closed and charging. The room was a loss, even with firefighters confining the worst of the damage with a fire extinguisher.

“We had him keep his Legos, but nothing else was able to be saved,” she said.

A company representative from the laptop maker flew out to take pictures, they said. The family stayed in a hotel for weeks until they say they were given the all-clear to return.

Jessica, nervous after two fires, insisted the house get an electrical once-over.

“They told us the wiring was all set, there shouldn’t be any more issues, we were welcome to move back in,” she said.

Chris Gould, right, and Jessica Gould spent almost a month living in an Auburn motel with their 13-year-old son, Damien, and their dog, Finley, after their Lewiston home caught fire for the third time in two years on March 30. Sun Journal photo by Daryn Slover

Less than 24 hours later, she was unconscious in her bushes.

‘A LOT FOR ME TO GET OVER’

The morning of March 30, Chris and Damien headed off to a gun show while Jessica stayed home to rest, a mesh cap with dozens of wires dangling from her head. It was her second time being hooked up to an electroencephalogram machine.

“An EEG is to make sure everything in my brain is working OK, to make sure it’s just stress that’s causing me to have more seizures,” she said.

After falling asleep in bed, “The next thing I remember is the dog jumped on my head,” Jessica said. “I did the immediate thing, kind of, ‘Oh! Finley!’ because the wires can come off. I flipped the covers off and I started coughing. I opened my eyes and realized it hurt to open my eyes — it was all smoke.”

She and Finley crawled to the bedroom window.

“I heard my dad’s voice … ‘Jessie, remember Damien,'” she said. “I was losing feeling. It was just like I was going to float away. I came to terms with the fact that I’d never see my son again, I’d never see my husband again. You know how they say everything flashes before your eyes? No, nothing flashed before my eyes. I saw my son’s crying face, that’s all I pictured was him, with the tears. I lost my dad at 19 and I have issues myself because of that. He’s going to have to go through what I went through. I just remember praying, please, just someone find me.”

A neighbor out raking his yard heard a noise, found her on the ground and pulled her away from the house. Another neighbor called Chris and 911.

She was taken to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston with perilously low oxygen levels, according to Chris, and doctors quickly said she’d need to go to Maine Medical Center in Portland.

“They said if the medivac didn’t get there within another 15 minutes, they probably would have lost her,” he said.

Jessica woke up the next day tied down in bed, a ventilator in her mouth, believing she was in purgatory. She said doctors have given her two years to make a full recovery. She’s already feeling better but easily winded and worn out.

Jan Willson, who runs Hope House with her husband, Bruce, where Jessica has volunteered for several years, said even through health challenges and house fires, Jessica has remained “a very upbeat and inspirational person to be around.”

“Jessica even got her Grandma, Peg, to volunteer for quite a while, and we saw just the same buoyant spirit of helpfulness in Peg,” Willson said. “They’re all just a great family, despite facing more than their share of challenges.”

Sgt. Joel Davis of the Office of the Maine State Fire Marshal said earlier this week that the cause of the Gould’s third house fire is undetermined, though the case remained open pending a follow-up interview with Jessica that he hadn’t done because of her injuries.

Chris said he believes the support beam running through the house sustained a lot of damage and he suspects “this time is a total loss, pretty much,” but he’ll have to wait on the official word.

A carpenter has told them to expect to be in the camper for a year once the rebuilding starts.

Last weekend, the couple had planned to host a party and vow renewal in their backyard for their 13th wedding anniversary. Chris’ lucky number is 13.

“We were going to have s’mores, we were going to have the beer barrel, the wheelbarrow with the beer in it, the canoe was going to be full of soda. I had it all planned out,” Jessica said. “I have over 100 pairs of flip-flops right now in the garage that I got for 11 cents each,” for guests to wear dancing.

That, like almost everything for now, is on hold.

“I can’t do a backyard fire,” Jessica said. “There’s a lot of fear and anxieties. I have a lot for me to get over mentally in order for me to move on.”


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