A man's body was found in the rubble of a home that burned to the ground in Orland Monday night. PHOTO COURTESY OF BOB CONARY

Victim in fatal Orland fire identified

ORLAND — A man died after going into his burning house to save his dog Monday night.

Maine Public Safety spokesman Steve McCausland said the deceased is Sam Crawford, 40, a father and general contractor.

“Investigators found Crawford’s body in the rubble of the basement about 11:30 pm.,” McCausland said. “The dog’s body was not located.”

The Maine State Fire Marshal’s Office said the fire at 5 Winkumpaugh Road started in the attached garage of the house shortly after a space heater was turned on.

Crawford had initially escaped from the house with four others.

McCausland said the survivors include Cassandra Morse, 26, Alex Chaffee, 19, and Crawford’s two daughters — Lillian Crawford, 9, and Ella Crawford, 5.

Orland Fire Chief Bob Conary said Crawford was the one who called 911 for help when the fire broke out just after 5:30 p.m.

“That’s what caused some of the confusion at first,” Conary said.

A Hancock County Regional Communications Center dispatcher told Crawford to stay outside, which is procedure, Conary said.

However, Crawford moved his skidder to a neighbor’s property and when he returned he told survivors he was going to look for his missing dog, McCausland said.

Chief Conary said the scene was “chaotic” at first.

“Nobody actually saw him go back inside,” Conary said. “The common thought was if he was at the scene he’d be with his family. That’s when we advised the fire marshal we believed we had a fatal fire.”

On the chance that Crawford had been injured and picked up by a passer-by, emergency rooms were called — in Ellsworth and Bangor.

Maine State Police Cpl. Chris Smith and his police dog Winger searched the area for Crawford on the chance that he was injured or unconscious in the woods.

The fire itself at the single-story ranch house took about two hours to get under control.

The deceased was a general contractor, so there were a lot of construction materials around, the chief said.

“The structure collapsed into the basement, so there were a lot of areas we couldn’t get to.”

The biggest issue was establishing a good water supply, the chief said. The Dedham Fire Department set up a pumping station at Moose Horn Stream. The stream was a mile or so from the fire but it sits atop a very tall hill, which was slow going for the engines to crest.

“We tried another brook closer, but it really wasn’t adequate,” Conary said.

There was plenty of help. Besides Dedham and Orland, fire departments from Bucksport, Penobscot, Ellsworth and Surry responded.

Meanwhile, the Orrington Fire Department was on standby for Bucksport, Castine stood by for Penobscot and Lamoine covered the Ellsworth station, Conary said.

“It was a very good cooperation between all the departments,” Conary said. “Cooperation and coordination were good once we got things sorted out.”

Also on hand was the Orland Fire Department Chaplain, the Rev. Peter Remick.

“He’s very in tune to how people are,” Conary said. “He’ll come by 10 times to make sure you’re OK.”

Remick is the go to guy for “critical incident debriefings” such as motor vehicle fatal crashes, Conary said.

The chief said there would likely be a debriefing for this incident, if needed.

“Firemen really hate to talk about their feelings,” he said.

This fire differs a bit from other incidents involving death that the department has to respond to, such as fatal motor vehicle crashes, the chief said.

“It’s not a situation where we didn’t get there in time,” Conary said. “We knew there was nothing we could do and it was out of our hands.”

The Orland department cleared the scene at 12:21 a.m. Tuesday — nearly seven hours after the fire started.

After helping to put equipment away, Conary got home himself around 2 a.m.

Orland resident Dexter Johnson knew Crawford when the two were growing up.

“I basically remember him as a good kid,” Johnson said. “He was always very respectful of his elders.”

Jennifer Osborn

Jennifer Osborn

Reporter and columnist at The Ellsworth American
News Reporter Jennifer Osborn covers news and features on the Blue Hill Peninsula and Deer Isle-Stonington. She welcomes tips and story ideas. She also writes the Gone Shopping column. Email Jennifer with your suggestions at [email protected] or call 667-2576.

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