LEWISTON — Larry Burnham looked lost standing in the parking lot across the street from his Horton Street apartment, watching as fire crews broke down the back door to enter the burning building.
The 59-year-old Lewiston man stood shivering in the slushy, icy driveway wearing only socks on his feet after escaping the flames with his wife of 33 years, Charlotte. The blaze broke out just after 8:30 p.m. in a bedroom of the couple’s first-floor apartment at 128 Horton St.
It wasn’t until his longtime friend and neighbor, Dale Richardson, ordered his son to go home and get a pair of shoes that Burnham even seemed to realize he was without shoes. Dazed, Burnham continued to watch as smoke poured out the backside and attic of the building he called home for more than a decade.
"I was watching TV in the other bedroom. I heard her bellowing," Burnham said of his wife as she rushed in the room to wake him. "I got in there and the whole bedroom was on fire."
The 59-year-old woman, who is battling cancer and uses an oxygen tank, was transported to Central Maine Medical Center immediately after crews arrived. Burnham said he thinks his wife might have fallen asleep smoking a cigarette, but authorities had not yet determined an official cause of the blaze as of late Monday night.
The State Fire Marshal’s Office has been brought in to help determine the cause, Lewiston Fire Investigator Paul Ouellette said.
He said there were numerous potential sources in the room that could have started a fire, since there was an oxygen tank present.
Burnham said the mattress was engulfed in flames when he entered the bedroom. He attempted to douse the blaze with pans of water from the nearby kitchen sink, but was unsuccessful and rushed his wife out of the apartment. He was later evaluated by emergency crews at the insistence of Richardson and also taken to the hospital.
"He’s one of my best friends," said Richardson, obviously worried about Burnham. "There’s not many people left around here from the old days. Everybody takes care of everybody down here."
Burnham said he and his wife rented the two-bedroom apartment from landlord Dan Baker, who lived on the second floor of the building. The couple had lived there more than 13 years. Buildings on either side and behind the two-story apartment building were evacuated as a precaution, according to Lewiston police Sgt. Randy St. Laurent.
"It’s contained to the building of origin," Lewiston fire Chief Paul LeClair said. "Crews are working on the interior right now. They’re searching for extensions and conducting an overhaul of the structure."
LeClair said that the full on-duty crew of the Fire Department responded, including 19 firefighters, four pumpers and one ladder truck. Additionally, five Lewiston police officers and crews from United Ambulance were also on scene.
Anyone looking to help the Burnhams may contact their son, Michael Labbe, at (207) 376-5279.