ORONO — Quick action and teamwork by firefighters from three area departments were credited Thursday with saving the William Colburn House at 91 Bennoch Road, one of the community’s oldest homes.
The house is more than 200 years old. Its age as well as its architectural and agricultural significance earned it a spot on the National Register of Historic Places in 1973.
The building, which is steeped in Revolutionary War history, is now the home of Richard and Sally Jacobs.
The fire broke out in the basement just before 9 a.m., according to Fire Chief Robert Burke. Richard Jacobs, his son, Jeff, and a tenant were at home when the fire began.
“I heard a loud pop, then smoke started pouring out of the registers,” said tenant Cary Gray-Veilleux, a University of Maine student renting the apartment in the ell, or extension, at the back of the house.
All three men were preparing to leave the home when the fire was discovered, and all escaped without injury.
“When we pulled up, smoke was rolling out of the windows and the garage,” the chief said.
Despite the intensity of the fire, which officials later said was fueled by flammable liquids stored in the basement, firefighters were able to contain it to the basement and to the ell.
“The boys did a real good job,” Burke said. “It was quite a team effort.” In addition to Orono firefighters, crews from nearby Old Town and Veazie responded.
Orono Fire Capt. Lorin LeCleire said the ensuing investigation determined that the fire was accidental. The apparent cause was an electric range in the basement, which was inadvertently turned on Thursday morning. A burner on the stove is believed to have ignited laundry sitting atop it.
Damage was estimated at $60,000, LeCleire said. Though few personal belongings were lost, the fire destroyed the furnace and parts of the plumbing and electrical systems. The fire also traveled inside of the walls of the ell before it was stopped. LeCleire said the house is insured.
The house, which overlooks the Stillwater River, was built in 1780 by William Colburn, a son of Jeremiah Colburn, who came to Orono with William and another son in 1774, according to the home’s nomination to the National Register.
The Colburns had been in Orono for a year when the Revolutionary War broke out. Family members buried their belongings near the site of the house and left to seek out the protection of the forts near the Kennebec River.
Jeremiah Colburn’s brother, Maj. Reuben Colburn, who lived in Pittston, built the bateaux, or lightweight river boats, for Benedict Arnold’s 1775 march to Quebec.
At the end of the war, the Colburns returned to the settlement, which later was named “Cobentown Plantation” in their honor. They found their belongings undisturbed and began building two houses on what now is Bennoch Road. Fire destroyed one of the houses.
William Colburn’s sister, Sarah, married John Marsh, the settler for whom Marsh Island is named.
The 1 1/2-story Cape Cod Colonial farmhouse is one of very few of its kind so far north of the coast. It was built of wood with a granite foundation and clad in narrow white clapboards.
The main house still contains the original wide softwood flooring and wainscoting and the original kitchen fireplace, now in the family room. The kitchen fireplace, one of several in the house, still has the crane and built-in ovens.