Lewiston home burns
Monday, March 9, 2009
LEWISTON - Gale Hart and her kids spent countless hours and summer vacations rehabilitating the historic three-story, two-family house at 71 Winter St. that they called "home" for more than 30 years. But tragedy struck early Sunday morning as flames tore through the wooden structure, destroying much of the hard work and heart that went into restoring the home to its turn-of-the-century grandeur.
"When I first bought it, it was just a dilapidated old house," Hart said, remembering her early days as a single mother of three. "We bought it and fixed it up from Day 1. Right now, we only have the clothes on our back. There's nothing we can take out of there," she said Sunday evening.
Neighbors noticed the blaze and alerted authorities about 8:45 a.m. The blaze is believed to have started on the first-floor side porch of the building and had already engulfed the side of the building by the time fire crews and police officers arrived.
"As we pulled out of the building here, we could already see a large column of smoke when we turned the corner," said Capt. Larry Morin of the Lewiston Fire Department. "The damage is very, very extensive on the rear part of the building."
Hart lived in the second-floor apartment of the duplex. She said that her adult son is handicapped and lived on the first floor. He was helped out of the structure by a neighbor from across the street who was one of the first people to call 911. Hart was not home when the fire started.
Hart, who serves as director of finance and administration at United Way of Androscoggin County, spent the past three decades restoring the home room by room. She said much of the project was done with her children, all of whom are now grown. Hart said she made the final touches to the house, which is listed on the city's historic registry, last year when she replaced the heating and electrical systems.
"The property was in meticulous condition," Morin said. "It wasn't one of those buildings that was an eyesore to the neighborhood."
The structure was deemed a total loss by the Fire Department. Fire investigator Paul Ouellette said the blaze is believed to have started on the first-floor porch. As of Sunday night, Ouellette said a cause of the fire had not been determined and the blaze remains under investigation. He added that early indications point toward an accidental cause.
Hart said the family lost everything in the blaze, from pictures to clothes to computers. Many of items not destroyed by flames were damaged by smoke and water, she said.
Hart and her son are staying with family and friends as they determine their next move.
"Everything is gone," Hart said. "I just don't know what else to do at this point."
To help: Anyone wishing to help Gale Hart and her family, who lost everything to a Sunday morning blaze that tore through their Winter Street home can call 353-2098.