Layered roof challenges Maine firefighters

By Walter Griffin
The Bangor Daily News

NORTHPORT, Maine — A stubborn fire at a Cobe Road residence kept firefighters from three communities busy Monday morning as they chased flames from one end of a compartmentalized roof to the other.

Fire Chief Michael Alley said crews from Northport, Lincolnville and Belfast had a hard time fighting the fire because of the home's roof structure. Renovations had left a layer of two roofs along with a plywood ceiling, and once the flames got into the upper story, they were difficult to chase down, he said.

"It was like chasing gophers down a hole," one firefighter remarked.

Alley said homeowner George Campbell reported the fire at his 35 Cobe Road single-family residence at about 9:30 a.m. The fire was extinguished about three hours later.

The fire appeared to have been started by an outdoor deep-fat fryer. Campbell told Alley that he smelled smoke, checked the inside of the home and then went outside. When he reached the back deck he noticed flames running up the exterior walls and into the roof. Campbell called 911 and grabbed his garden hose.

"It went right up the wall and into the roof," Alley said. "The roof was soffit-vented and it went right in."

Firefighters arrived at the home in the town's waterfront Bayside neighborhood within minutes of the alarm being sounded. They entered the home, draped plastic tarps over furniture and family photographs and began tackling the fire.

The crews initially fought the fire from inside and outside. Those inside were confronted with thick, black smoke and were drawn to the flames by sound rather than sight, Alley said. They also used a thermal imaging camera to locate the elusive flames.

"We had to pull plywood down from the ceiling and walls to get to it," Alley said. "It was just very difficult to get to. You'd get upstairs and pull a layer down, put that out and you still had another chamber fire in front of you. It was tough. You still have to get to it to put it out."

While the indoor crews sprayed water upward into the ceiling, the outside crews placed ladders against windows and aimed their hoses inside. When the indoor firefighters ran low on oxygen, another group moved in to take their place. The Belfast Fire Department's ladder truck was used to spray water and foam into the burning roof from above.

Alley said the home's second floor and roof had extensive fire damage, and the first floor and basement were inundated with smoke and water damage. Alley said the home was insured and the Campbell family would be staying at a home nearby.

Alley said the crews had no problem with water as a succession of tanker trucks shuttled water from a hydrant about a half-mile down the road to portable reservoirs erected in the road in front of the home. There were no injuries. Alley estimated that 35 men and women from the three departments responded to the alarm.

"Thank God for mutual aid," Alley said.

Copyright 2009 Bangor Daily News

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