BUXTON – An elderly man died early Thursday after his clothes caught fire as he was burning a grassy embankment behind his home the day before.

Frank Hebert, 85, had burns on 70 percent of his body, according to the state Fire Marshal’s Office. The office is investigating the fire with the Maine Forest Service.

Each spring, Hebert apparently set fire to small areas of the steep embankment behind his home at 66 River Road. This kept the area — accessed via a pathway with a railing and a makeshift staircase of stones — free of tall vegetation and created a fire break between his home and some woods beyond the embankment.

Hebert apparently lost control of the fire, but exactly what happened may never be known, even after the investigation is completed, fire officials said. The Forest Service is in charge of investigating outdoor fires, but the Fire Marshal’s Office gets involved when an outdoor fire results in serious injury or death.

On Thursday, state Forest Ranger Matt Bennett was trying to determine where the fire started. An area of about 80 feet by 180 feet had been burned, but how much of it burned Wednesday was unclear, fire officials said.

Bennett had planted white flags where evidence was discovered on the embankment, indicating where bits of clothing were found and where Hebert’s rake fell near a stump where he was found.

Hebert, who was wearing two pairs of pants over long underwear, may not have realized his clothes had caught fire, Bennett said.

“It might have been a little bit of a glowing ember. Where it was three layers, he might not have felt the heat right off,” Bennett said.

Two volunteer firefighters — Lts. Jeremy Redlon and Jamie Grant — reached Hebert’s home in their own vehicles before fire trucks arrived, so the two had no hose or other firefighting equipment to work with, according to Fire Chief Bruce Mullen and Deputy Chief Greg Jones.

Redlon initially saw Hebert, but then lost sight of him, and the firefighter realized Hebert was on fire, the fire officials said.

Redlon was wearing his firefighting pants but no other fire gear. He ran to Hebert and used a sweatshirt to smother the flames burning him.

“He ran into the fire with basically nothing to put him out. He literally rolled him on the ground,” Jones said. Grant used his firefighting jacket in the same way.

Hebert was taken to Maine Medical Center in Portland, where he died Thursday.

Redlon, 38, suffered cuts and burns to his hands and was kept overnight at Maine Medical Center as a precaution. He was back at the fire station Thursday, his hands still bandaged. He declined to be interviewed. Grant could not immediately be reached.

Hebert had not obtained a burn permit, which is required for all but small cooking fires. But Mullen said conditions were good Wednesday and Hebert would have been issued a permit had he applied.

On Thursday afternoon, Sandra Bolton, one of Hebert’s neighbors, stopped by his tidy blue Cape Cod home, which faces the Saco River. She spoke of how active Hebert was despite his age.

Until recent years, he decorated the embankment with an extensive Christmas display, she said.

“He just did everything,” she said. “He was just always doing something, always doing something.”

Staff Writer Ann S. Kim can be contacted at 791-6383 or at:

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