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Investigators Release Cause of Deadly Fire


The State Fire Marshal’s office has released its findings into the cause of a deadly fire that took four lives early Saturday morning.

The State Fire Marshal’s office says empty cardboard boxes stored too close to a wood stove started the deadly fire on the Dow Road in Orrington over the weekend. Killed in that fire were 30-year-old Benjamin Johnson III, and his children; 9-year-old Benjamin, 4-year-old Ryan, and daughter 8-year-old Leslie. Fire crews said that Benjamin had helped his wife onto the roof of a breezeway, before going back inside to get the children. Christine Johnson, 31, is said to be improving at Eastern Maine Medical Center after suffering smoke inhalation.

Investigators say that the home was heated with a wood stove and a propane heater insert in the fireplace. The furnace in the home was not working. The family had returned from a night of bowling late Friday night and then started the stove, located in a first floor living room. The boxes were within inches of the stove and investigators say they were likely used to help ignite kindling when the wood stove fire was started. Also found near the wood stove was a container of lighter fluid, which likely helped spread the fire once the boxes had ignited.

The fire was reported at just after 2:30 Saturday morning. Neighbors say they alerted police after hearing Christine calling for help. The huge fire was fully involved when firefighters arrived and there was little they could do to save the family.

Benjamin’s body was found at the head of the stairs and the children were found on the floor of a second story bedroom. All four were found to have died of smoke inhalation.

I spoke with Fire Marshal Joe Thomas today who urged Mainers to use alternative heating systems safely. Keep flammable materials far away from flames and never use flammable liquids to start a wood stove fire. Make sure your smoke detectors are working. Neighbors on Dow Road in Orrington reported that they did not hear any smoke detectors going off during Saturday morning’s fire.  Make sure your family has an escape plan for each and every room in the house and practices that plan often. Also, have a designated meeting place away from the house, where the family can gather.For more information on fire safety, log onto the State Fire Marshal’s website.


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