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November 12, 2012

Dawn Gagnon/Bangor Daily News via The Associated Press

Authorities converge at a home where a fire killed four people on Dow Road in Orrington on Saturday.

Cause of deadly Orrington fire being determined

By Eric Russell
erussell@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

Updated at 12:07 p.m. Monday

The state Fire Marshal's Office is expected to release the cause of the Orrington fire later Monday afternoon, Department of Public Safety spokesman Stephen McCausland said.

The blaze at the single family home on Dow Road on Saturday killed a man and his three young children. It was Maine’s deadliest fire in 20 years.

Investigators form the Fire Marshal's Office have interviewed the fire's sole survivor, Christine Johnson. The 31-year-old woman was rescued from the roof of her burning home early Saturday and taken to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, where she was treated for smoke inhalation.

Johnson's husband, Benjamin Johnson III, 30, and the couple's three children -- 9-year-old Ben, 8-year-old Leslie and 4-year-old Ryan -- perished in the fire. The blaze was reported shortly after 2:30 a.m. by neighbors who heard a woman screaming. That turned out to be Christine Johnson. When firefighters arrived at the home, she was on the roof of the home, which was engulfed in flames.

– Tom Bell, Staff Writer

ORRINGTON — Investigators returned Sunday to the scene of Maine's deadliest fire in 20 years, but weren't ready to release the cause and origin of the blaze that killed an Orrington man and his three young children.

Department of Public Safety spokesman Stephen McCausland said detectives with the state Fire Marshal's Office were still conducting interviews into the afternoon and wanted to speak again with the fire's sole survivor, Christine Johnson, before closing the investigation.

The 31-year-old wife, mother and author was rescued from the roof of her burning home early Saturday and taken to Eastern Maine Medical Center in Bangor, where she was treated for smoke inhalation. Her condition had improved Sunday, McCausland said, but she was not ready to be released.

Johnson's husband, Benjamin Johnson III, 30, and the couple's three children -- 9-year-old Ben, 8-year-old Leslie and 4-year-old Ryan -- perished in the fire.

The last time four people died in a fire in Maine was in December 1992 at a Portland apartment, McCausland said.

The blaze was reported shortly after 2:30 a.m. by neighbors who heard a woman screaming. That turned out to be Christine Johnson. When firefighters arrived at the home on Dow Road in the Penobscot County town just outside Bangor, she was on the roof of the home, which was engulfed in flames.

Ken Goetz, a manager at Hollywood Slots Casino in Bangor where Ben Johnson was employed as a table dealer, said he'd heard that the husband helped his wife to safety on the roof and then went to get the children.

"You don't ever want to see this happen, even to your worst enemy," Goetz said by phone Sunday. "But he was such a good guy, such a family man."

It wasn't clear late Sunday what had caused the fire. McCausland said electrical and heating inspectors had assisted fire marshals at the scene.

The Johnsons had been renting the home for the last six months. It wasn't clear whether the house had smoke detectors or whether they went off.

"I don't understand it; I can't make sense of what happened," Goetz said. "He and his wife, they were together a long time and had their ups and downs like anybody. They struggled a little financially, which is why he got this part-time job (at the casino). But he was always so positive. Our regular patrons loved him. We're a family here too and this is just devastating."

The Center Drive School, which Ben and Leslie attended, will have no classes Monday in observance of Veterans Day, but officials there said the school will be open, with grief counselors on hand, from noon to 3 p.m.

The four deaths Saturday brought the yearly total to 14, McCausland said. Maine has averaged about 17 fire deaths every year for the last decade or so.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Staff Writer Eric Russell can be contacted at 791-6344 or at:

erussell@mainetoday.com





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