Thirteen people were displaced when the Freedom Center in Dresden, which provides transitional housing, was destroyed in an early morning fire. DARCIE MOORE/THE TIMES RECORD

Thirteen people were displaced when the Freedom Center in Dresden, which provides transitional housing, was destroyed in an early morning fire. DARCIE MOORE/THE TIMES RECORD

DRESDEN

Eleven people were left without a home early Sunday morning when the Freedom Center in Dresden was badly damaged by fire.

All of the residents escaped but a dog died in the building. 

Freedom Center provides transitional housing for men living with addiction and/or mental or physical disabilities.

As rain fell, firefighters swarmed the property. Some of the residents stood outside in pajama pants and sweatshirts — some without shoes and none dressed for the conditions — wet and draped with blankets, towels or sheets. Some took refuge in  ambulances.

The fire was reported at around 3:30 a.m. and drew about 100 firefighters and EMS personnel from at least 10 fire departments.

Dresden Fire Chief Steve Lilly said when he arrived the back of the building was ablaze and the fire was burning out through the roof. There was also heavy smoke billowing from the front eaves.

Lilly said it was a chaotic scene at first. Initially he didn’t have an accurate head count so teams of firefighters began searching the structure to rescue the remaining residents. The fire meanwhile moved through the attic above until Lilly had to pull the firefighters out and attack the fire from the exterior. 

It was about 45 minutes before Lilly had confirmation that everyone had made it out. It was a total of about two hours before the fire was controlled enough to allow firefighters back inside. 

State fire marshal’s investigators responded to the scene along with their mobile command center.

While the outer structure appeared intact, the roof had collapsed and firefighters had to dig through debris to extinguish the last of the fire. Dresden crews didn’t leave the scene until around 12:30 p.m.

James Bell was woken by another resident and he called 911.

“It got real bad there for a while,” said Bell, after he and housemates got outside and had no cover from the rain. He’d lived at the center for 16 months.

“Everything I own is now gone,” he said.

Zack Crawford’s bedroom was in the front corner of the building. He heard people running around, went into the hallway and saw the smoke. He tried to get the eight-month old Labradoodle out of the building but couldn’t.

“I was bawling earlier,” Crawford said, knowing the dog, owned by the center’s director, had died in the fire. His emotions then gave way to shock.

Bell and Crawford said those living at the center are a family.

The building was constructed in the 1970s as a hotel and has served as a bar and church before housing the Freedom Center, established in 2014. The challenge for Keven Vachon, the home’s assistant director, and American Red Cross workers on scene was to find a bus to transport the group to a motel.

The most pressing issue was that many of the residents needed medication.

Vachon was the pastor at the facility while it was a church. Worry set in when he got the intial phone call that something bad had happened at the center. 

“They’re doing such a good job and this place has really done well for them. This is home for a lot of them,” he said.

According to a press release, the Red Cross is currently assisting 11 individuals affected by the fire, and will ensure everyone has a safe place to sleep, food and other essentials.

“Over the next several days, the Red Cross team will stay in contact with the families to provide financial assistance and community referrals, as they begin their road to recovery,” the release states.

 Dresden Takeout provided coffee and food at-cost and Bath Bus Service sent a bus to transport residents. The American Red Cross is aiding the individuals as well.

Lilly said he hopes the building can be rebuilt or replaced, adding it is difficult to see anyone lose their home.

He added that everyone worked well together during the fire.

“I hope that everyone gets the recognition that they deserve for doing what they do, because none of us can do it alone anymore,” he said.

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