A mother and three young children are safe and uninjured after a fully involved house fire destroyed their home in Jefferson on the afternoon of Tuesday, May 23. Two additional school-age children were not home at the time of the fire.
Rebekah Sousa, a single mother and military veteran, was inside the house at 980 Augusta Road with her youngest children when a fire started in the barn on the property, according to Jefferson Fire Chief Darin Walker. Driven by the wind, flames quickly engulfed the house. Walker said no other homes were in immediate danger.
Walker said the Maine State Fire Marshal’s office visited the scene May 23 to investigate the fire. The cause is undetermined, he said.
A Jefferson firefighter driving by called the fire in to the Lincoln County Communications Center at 12:38 p.m. and multiple neighbors who noticed that the barn was in flames also called 911. Walker said a nearby work crew banged on the door of the house to alert its occupants to the danger.
“The people inside walked out with the clothes on their back,” Walker said.
The house is a complete loss, as was the family’s vehicle, Walker said. The Red Cross has been contacted to provide emergency assistance to the family.
Walker said he arrived on scene about 10 minutes after the call came in and initially couldn’t see anything other than billowing black smoke and flames shooting out into the road.
A secondary fire on a small section of undeveloped land across Route 17 was ablaze. Walker said there were grass fires and woods fires igniting behind the house and “spot fires everywhere.”
Walker cited the wind and a shortage of manpower as aggravating factors, noting that daytime fires are more difficult due to lack of personnel.
Firefighters used a defensive approach, focusing first on the house to minimize wind-driven embers that were sparking the additional fires, Walker said. When the Jefferson Fire Department arrived on scene, the house was not structurally safe for firefighters to enter. Multiple collapses occurred within the building and Walker said several small explosions were heard as fire gutted the interior.
The Somerville Fire Department extinguished a sizable grass fire that developed on the opposite side of Route 32, and the Whitefield Fire Department, with assistance from the Lincoln County Strike Team, knocked down the grass fire that jumped Route 17.
Due to the fire’s size, two portable water tanks were deployed and tankers drew water from fill sites at Coopers Mill in Whitefield and near County Fair Farm in Jefferson. Tankers pumped more than 200,000 gallons of water to bring the fire under control. Walker said the water supply to the hoses never ran out.
The Waldoboro Fire Department’s ladder truck proved a valuable asset in attacking the fire from above, Walker said. Once the truck could access the driveway, it was brought around the back of the house where “there was still a tremendous amount of heat and fire,” according to Walker.
“Ladders save on manpower,” he said. “Let the equipment do the job.”
Walker credited the county-wide mutual aid system for helping knock the fire down and controlling its spread.
“We couldn’t have done it without mutual aid,” he said. “We all work together.”
In addition to Jefferson, mutual aid and Lincoln County Strike Team members from Alna, Boothbay, Bristol, Newcastle, Nobleboro, Pittston, Somerville, Waldoboro, Washington, Whitefield, and Windsor responded to the scene. A Maine Forest Service helicopter was called in as a precaution but ultimately did not perform a water drop.
“We had just enough people for the scene,” Walker said about the response. “It just goes to show nobody can do it themselves anymore. Daytime fires are tough, people are at work … so we’re very fortunate and very thankful for all the help when we need it.”
No injuries were reported. Jefferson Fire and Rescue and Waldoboro Emergency Medical Services provided rehab to firefighters as they fought the blaze.
Walker said a drone brought in by the Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office was “a tremendous help,” allowing firefighters to quickly assess how far the fire had spread through nearby fields and forest, something they could not easily do on foot.
The Lincoln County Sheriff’s Office and the Maine State Police assisted with traffic control. Route 17 was closed in both directions until around 5 p.m. and both lanes of Route 32 were closed for the duration of the fire.
The scene was cleared around 7:45 p.m.
A friend of Sousa has set up a fundraiser to help the family recover from the loss of their home and possessions. To donate, go to gofund.me/01e91065.