SOUTHWEST HARBOR — The Southwest Harbor Fire Department, responding to a report of smoke coming from an attached garage at a Hillcrest Circle residence, found much more than that when they arrived around 4 p.m. on Thursday.
Fire Chief Tom Chisholm said his crew was able to extinguish the flames in the basement within minutes of arriving on scene before they could spread to the home’s main floor. This allowed firefighters to enter the living quarters above the basement to search for occupants of the house before the floor began to collapse.
Fortunately, the family who live there were not at home at the time of the fire. Emma and Justin Johnson were on vacation with their children and the family dog was being watched by a family member elsewhere. The family’s cat, however, was later found dead of smoke inhalation.
“We all empathize because pets are considered part of the family and it’s unfortunate that it took place regardless, above and beyond everything,” said Chisolm.
Mount Desert, Bar Harbor, Tremont and Ellsworth fire departments assisted in battling the blaze.
“The Southwest Harbor/Tremont Ambulance and Southwest Harbor Police Department were able to be there quickly, which provided a little bit of medical protection and planning for us,” said Chisolm.
Versant Power was also called to disconnect the power for safety reasons.
The fire departments had to cut a hole in the home’s roof and break several windows to provide ventilation. Although there was not much damage to the contents on the home’s main floor, there was a substantial amount of fire damage in the basement area, and smoke and heat damage throughout the house.
“The building’s structure is not habitable at this time and has been pushed off to the family’s insurance,” said the chief. He added that fire departments do their best when they douse the flames to prevent water damage.
The cause of the fire is undetermined because of the amount of damage, said State Fire Marshal Investigator John Wardwell on Friday.
The entire structure and nearly all the family’s possessions have been affected by the fire. To help the family offset anticipated costs, Emma’s sister, Molly Damon, is appealing to the community for assistance. “There will be many more short- and long-term needs as they assess and do their best to move through the coming weeks and months,” Damon said.
Damon started a GoFundMe campaign for the Johnsons with a goal of $15,000. As of Feb. 9, donations had reached $14,355.
The GoFundMe page can be found at https://tinyurl.com/yukk4zp8.
This story was updated on Feb. 10 to include donation information.