Firefighters survey a residence engulfed in flames Thursday in West Gardiner while establishing hose lines to the off grid cabin located several hundred yards into the woods west of state Route 126. Firefighters discovered the body of an adult while they were fighting the fire. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

WEST GARDINER — The Office of the State Fire Marshal is investigating the cause of a fire where firefighters discovered the body of an adult while they were fighting the fire.

According to a news release from the state Department of Public Safety, the person found is believed to be Sherwood Keene, 83, who had been renting a home at 810 Lewiston Road.

The remains were taken to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner in Augusta.

Firefighters from across southern Kennebec County were called to a home on the property at 810 Lewiston Road in West Gardiner shortly before noon Thursday, setting up a relay that operated for more than an hour along Lewiston Road — also state Routes 9 and 126 — to bring water to the site of the fire.

They were also searching for home’s occupant.

The fire was reported by witnesses who saw a column of smoke rising from the woods west of Interstate 95 south of the West Gardiner Service Plaza and south of Lewiston Road. The column of smoke could be seen from as far away as Pittston.


Bryan Knowles, 54, who for 35 years lived across the street from the property where the fire broke out, was among the people who reported the fire.

A firefighter shields his head Thursday while surveying a West Gardiner residence engulfed in flames. A state trooper, Erin James, and neighbor, Brian Knowles, discovered the off-grid cabin was completely consumed by fire when they arrived at the residence located several hundred yards into the woods west of Route 126. Firefighters found a body at the scene, believed to be that of the home’s occupant. Andy Molloy/Kennebec Journal

On Thursday morning, Knowles was out in the woods, doing some trail maintenance and scouting for hunting season on his side-by-side utility vehicle when he heard what sounded to him like the pulsing of a hot air balloon burner.

“I thought a hot air balloon might have been landing in that field,” Knowles said.

As he started back toward Lewiston Road, Knowles said he saw a small field filled with white smoke, and by the time he came up the roadway by the house, he said both it and the truck parked outside it were fully engulfed in fire. The single-story home had a metal roof, so flames were coming out the sides, and were not extending up. The noise he heard, he said, was coming from the propane tanks at the house, but he saw no sign of the man who was living in the home.

“You couldn’t even tell it was a house there was so much fire,” he said. “It was fully engulfed. It was a giant fireball.”

As he drove back up toward Lewiston Road to find cell service to call 911, he met up with a Maine State trooper driving by who was trying to find the source of smoke she had seen. The trooper, Erin James, had also reported the fire.


“There was no saving it, in my opinion,” Knowles said. “By the time they (fire departments) got here, it was half-flat.”

Mike Gross, West Gardiner’s deputy fire chief, said his department was dispatched to the fire at 11:41 a.m., and he was the first to arrive.

The challenge to fighting the fire was the home’s location, he said; it was located about 500 yards down a narrow camp road.

“The fire was knocked down within 60 minutes,” Gross said. “We had to keep soaking it down and wetting it down.”

Knowles said he didn’t know the man well, but well enough to wave hello to as he passed by the house when he was heading home from hunting.

He said he stuck around to alert firefighters about where to turn to reach the fire and to ferry firefighters back to the site and help move fire hoses.

Firefighters from West Gardiner, Gardiner, Farmingdale, Hallowell, Litchfield, Manchester, Pittston and Randolph responded, as well as the Gardiner Ambulance Service.

Shannon Moss, public information officer for the Maine Department of Public Safety, said fire marshal’s office investigators were helped at the scene by the Maine Forest Service and the Maine State Police.

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