House occupant John Meachem said he heard a loud popping noise and smelled smoke at approximately 2:30 am. Meachem, his wife, their four children, and the family dog were all able to escape the house unharmed, and call emergency services. A report from the state police department of public safety later said the fire was an accidental electrical fire, originating near a window on the north side of the home, visible from Route 112.
According to Whitingham Fire Chief Stanley Janovsky, his department was on scene within 10 minutes, while Wilmington, Halifax, Marlboro, and Readsboro all provided support, covering the town’s two fire stations. Whitingham Fire Department also closed a section of Route 112 between Holbrook Road and Route 100 so firefighters could fight the blaze safely and more effectively. Janovsky said the department ran 2,500 feet of large diameter hoses and took water from two sources, including a dry hydrant at Jacksonville Pond.
Janovsky said that his department did a great job in containing the fire. “Everything went very well for where it occurred and what time it happened. All the mutual aid help from other departments made it work smoothly in terms of the firefighting.”
The proximity of neighboring houses was the department’s greatest concern in containing the fire, with one home 14 feet away and another 20. Janovsky said there were also gun(s) and ammunition in the house, but once their location was established, this became less of a concern. Once the firefighters were able to establish the origin of the fire on the first floor, an exterior crew worked on outside containment, followed by an aggressive interior crew. An upstairs dormer suffered less extensive damage, but the fire spread quickly on the first floor.
The house, listed as owned by the Jacksonville Church, suffered water, smoke, heat, and fire damage totaling an estimated $80,000. Meachem said he and his family would stay at his sister’s house close by that night, while they waited for Red Cross assistance.
“The family is fine, the kids are good, and we all got out safe,” said Meachem. “It’s devastating walking into your house and everything you work for is destroyed. It’s just a matter of where to go from here, and the community has been unbelievable to us.”
The Meachems were only able to salvage family pictures from the house, as well as the safety of their family dog, which Meachem says is helping their three boys, ages 11,10, and 9, and their 5-year-old daughter cope with the loss of their home.
Meachem also said that the fire was especially tough for his 11-year-old son who is legally blind and suffers from cerebral palsy. However the Whitingham Lions Club is assisting with providing glasses and other needs. Any help should be directed to the Whitingham Lions. “They have been a huge help meeting his needs during this time with medications, glasses, and other items.” said Meachem. Habitat for Humanity has also been contacted to possibly help the Meachems rebuild their home.
According to Janovsky, his department responds to numerous electrical burns each year, and they are most commonly found on or near power strips. While Janovsky could not say for sure if that was the origin of Monday morning’s fire, he said it is always important to not go above the recommended wattage on a power strip, and to make sure to replace them every five years, to help prevent electrical fires.