November 13, 2012

Wood stove ignited tragic Orrington fire

The Johnson family, which lost a child to SIDS in 2007, planned to fix the furnace after getting a mortgage loan.

By Tom Bell
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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A team of state police and fire marshals confer inside the Orrington house where a man and his three children died in a fire Saturday.

AP Photo/Kevin Bennett, Bangor Daily News

He said the boxes were likely used to light kindling in the stove. Investigators also found near the stove a container of lighter fluid, which likely helped spread the fire once the cardboard boxes ignited.

Neighbors and firefighters reported not hearing any working smoke detectors in the house, investigators said.

The two-story Cape, built in 1966, is owned by John Costello and Heather Bemis of 383A Essex St., Bangor, according to Orrington tax records.

JPMorgan Chase Bank initiated foreclosure proceedings on the couple in October, 2011, and on Sept. 24 a judge issued a judgment of foreclosure and order of sale, according to records at the Penobscot County Registry of Deeds.

The house was vacant between May 2011 and March 2012, when the Johnson family moved in under an agreement that allowed them to stay in the house for a nominal rent while the proceedings for the short sale took place, Cormier said.

While the house was vacant last winter, he said, some of the heating pipes froze and were damaged, making the heating system nonfunctional.

"The family had a glimmer of hope of getting their own home under affordable terms, and unfortunately we have lost four of them," Cormier said. "This is very, very tragic."

The house was assessed by the town at $166,600, and the asking price when the house was listed for sale was $129,000. Costello and Bemis owe the bank about $164,000 in principal, interest and fees, according to court records.

Insufficient clearance between wood stoves and combustible materials is the single biggest cause of fires involving wood stoves, Thomas said. He said the Fire Marshal's Office recommends that combustible materials be kept three feet away from wood stoves. People also need to make sure the smoke detectors are working, and families should discuss how they will evacuate a house in case of a fire.

He said fires like the one in Orrington can easily be avoided if people take prudent safety measures.

"It doesn't have to happen," he said.

Staff Writer Ray Routhier contributed to this story.


Staff Writer Tom Bell can be contacted at 791-6369 or at


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