BAR HARBOR — The lone remaining survivor of a house fire that killed a woman and her adult son here last April is bringing a wrongful death lawsuit against power company Emera Maine. The suit alleges that the fire was caused by an electrical surge.
Raymond Harding and his father, Percy Harding, escaped from the April 22, 2018, fire in the Russell Farm Road home. Erlene Harding, Raymond’s mother and Percy’s wife, died in the fire, as did Raymond’s brother, Leroy. Percy died of unrelated illness in October 2018, but his obituary stated that he died “after a brief battle with cancer and of a broken heart.”
Surges in the area were reported beginning at 3:30 a.m. when a tree fell on a power line on Frenchman’s Hill Road, the same line that feeds Russell Farm Road.
Weeks earlier, Emera compensated some customers for property damage following the surges in Otter Creek, according to the complaint, but refused to do so in the case of the April 21-22 event, “stating that the outage and/or surge event was an ‘Act of God’ caused by a tree falling on an electric utility line.”
Attorneys James O’Connell and Alicia Curtis of the Lewiston-based law firm Berman & Simmons filed the suit in Hancock County Superior Court Feb. 27, claiming “Emera’s conduct … evidenced a reckless or wanton disregard of the rights and safety of the plaintiffs and decedents and all other consumers of electricity in the Mount Desert Island area.”
“Raymond Harding suffered, and continues to suffer, from having contemporaneously witnessed his brother Leroy Harding and his mother Erlene Harding trapped in the Harding Family Home fire, being unable to rescue them, hearing their outcries of fear and horror, and watching the Harding Family home burn while aware they were both suffering painful and terrifying deaths,” the complaint says.
Power went out during the night, the complaint says, and then at about 8 a.m. “Percy Harding was downstairs in the Harding Family home when he heard a loud ‘pop’ or ‘boom’ sound” moments after the power came back on.
He went to the basement, where the sound seemed to have come from. When he opened the basement door he was burned by heat and steam from the basement and he saw “flames rising in the basement.”
Because the home phone was not working, he went to a neighbor’s house to call 911. When he returned, “the entire house was engulfed in flames.” He had to be physically restrained from going back inside to attempt to rescue his wife and sons.
Raymond Harding escaped the house by jumping from his second-floor bedroom window. He “directly observed that his mother and brother were trapped in the house, but he was unable to rescue them.”
Emera representatives were present at the fire scene “shortly after the fire,” the complaint says, “with the apparent purpose of investigating and obtaining evidence.” Those representatives knew two people had been killed in the fire, O’Connell wrote.
“We are aware of the tragic fire on Russell Farm Road, and understand the State Fire Marshal’s Office investigation is ongoing,” Emera spokeswoman Judy Long told the Islander a few days after the fire.
“We are prepared to support this effort if and when requested by officials, and we will know more as those experts complete their work.”
A spokeswoman working with O’Connell and the family, Christen Graham of social philanthropy firm Giving Strong, contacted news outlets Wednesday afternoon to share the court document.