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Firefighter dies, 7 others hurt in Farmington, Maine, gas explosion

The aftermath of the Farmington, Maine gas explosion
The explosion killed a firefighter and injured at least six other people. (Courtesy of @jenay_d on Twitter)

FARMINGTON, Maine — A propane gas explosion leveled a recently renovated facility serving the developmentally disabled here Monday morning, killing one longtime firefighter and injuring seven other people, including a maintenance worker who risked his life to evacuate people, according to officials and a local priest.

Fire Captain Michael Bell, 68, a 30-year-veteran of the department, was killed, officials said.

Bell was the brother of Farmington Fire Chief Terry Bell, 62, who was injured.

On Monday afternoon, summer was still holding on in Farmington, with fall foliage just starting to show in this community about 35 miles northwest of Augusta. But on Farmington Falls Road, white insulation from the building covered the ground like snow.


Robert Ferro, who lives nearby, said that it was “raining cellulose” Monday morning and that the sky was black.

The explosion was heard for miles around.

“You ever heard a sonic boom?” he asked. “It was like that, only 10 times the strength.”

The building held administrative offices for LEAP Inc., an organization that helps people with developmental disabilities. The organization’s residents live in other houses in the area.

A maintenance worker at the facility, Larry Lord, 60, was flown to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

The Rev. Paul Dumais of St. Joseph’s Church in Farmington, where Lord and his wife are parishioners, said Lord evacuated people out of the building “at risk to his own life.”

Firefighters had been called to the building on Route 2 at 8:07 a.m. for a gas smell and the explosion rocked the area minutes later, officials said.

The two-story building, which had a recently opened addition, was flattened, state officials said. Investigators from the State Fire Marshal’s office and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives are seeking the source of the explosion.

Other firefighters injured in the blast, which was felt for miles, were Captain Timothy D. Hardy, 40, Captain Scott Baxter, 37, and his father, Theodore Baxter, 64, Joseph Hastings, 24, and Deputy Fire Chief Clyde Ross.


Ross was released from Franklin Memorial Hospital in Farmington. Five of the other victims were taken to Maine Medical Center in Portland, with four of them in the intensive care unit, the hospital said.

Lord was in critical condition at MGH Monday night, according to an MGH spokeswoman.

The chief, Hardy, Scott Baxter, and Hastings are all full-time members of the Farmington Fire Department, according to state authorities. Michael Bell, Theodore Baxter, and Ross worked for the department part time, officials said.

At St. Joseph’s Church Monday evening, about 40 people gathered to pray for Michael Bell and his family and for community support for those affected.

Jim Kiernan, a public works foreman who also serves as a member of the Farmington Fire Rescue, described the harrowing scene.

“It was mayhem,” Kiernan said in a phone interview. “A lot of injured people and debris fields covering a big area. Nothing left of the building. There were pieces everywhere .”

He added, “I was here shortly after the explosion. I was six miles away, so I didn’t feel the explosion. It was heard 17 miles away. Quite an explosion.”

Governor Janet T. Mills, who is from Farmington, a town of about 7,700 people, called the blast “devastating.”

“Farmington is a strong, close-knit, and resilient community, of which I am proud to be a part. This loss is devastating and felt by all of Maine,” Mills said in a statement.


Around 2 p.m., Mills tweeted that she had ordered for the US and Maine state flags to be flown at half-staff through sunset Wednesday.

Ferro’s wife, Theresa Ferro, a direct support professional with LEAP, described the town as safe and close-knit.

“I like to believe that in this state, I like to believe that in this town, we take care of each other,” she said.

At LEAP, she helps residents care for themselves, and she said the organization “teaches people how to have independence.”

Bell’s death marks another heart-wrenching loss this year for Maine firefighters. On March 1, Berwick Fire Captain Joel Barnes was killed fighting a four-alarm house fire in that southern Maine town. At his memorial service in Portland, Oxford Fire Chief Gary Sacco, 63, suffered a medical emergency and died.

Globe correspondent Alyssa Lukpat contributed and material from the Associated Press was used in this report.