A just-married couple had been home from their honeymoon for two days when a fire destroyed their home and everything inside it, Sunday, Sept. 11, according to Searsmont Fire Chief James Ames.

The couple, Susie Tofani O’Brien and Kevin O’Brien, made it out safely, said Ames, with just the clothes on their backs and their dog.

Ames said firefighters were called shortly after 9 a.m. Sunday to 7 Pines Road, a dirt road off of Pond Road along the shore of Quantabacook Lake. The fire was called in by a neighbor, Ames said, who reported hearing a large explosion and seeing flames.

When the first firefighters arrived about 10 minutes later they found the two-story, stick-built house engulfed in flames.

“It was fully involved,” said Ames, who said there was so much smoke and flame that the house itself could not be seen, just a red glow.

Firefighters from Appleton, Belmont, Liberty, Morrill and Montville sent crews to the scene, and Ames said they worked until a little after 2 p.m. After taking a lunch break, Searsmont firefighters returned to the scene and remained there until around 5 p.m., putting out hot spots.

Ames said there were about 25 to 30 firefighters on scene when all the mutual aid departments were present, along with Searsmont Rescue personnel (the town’s ambulance service). There were no reports of injuries to emergency personnel, said Ames.

Ames said the O’Briens were renting the house from Stephen Wickenden, and that Wickenden had insurance on the house. Ames was unsure if the O’Briens had renters insurance.

Susie Tofani O’Brien had been working in the kitchen Sunday morning prior to the fire, doing dishes, Ames said. She then went into the living room to find a waffle maker, which was apparently one of the gifts they had received for their wedding.

“As her husband was coming down from upstairs,” Ames said, “she was telling him about this odor that she had smelled.”

Susie Tofani O’Brien went to the kitchen, said Ames, while Kevin went into the living room, only to get knocked off his feet by the explosion and see all the living room furniture get knocked over.

Ames said fire was so hot and strong that it heavily damaged — possibly totaled — the O’Brien’s vehicles. The fire chief said the couple is currently staying with Susie Tofani O’Brien’s mother, who lives in Camden.

Ames said he was at the scene for much of the day Monday, Sept. 12 with an investigator from the Fire Marshal’s Office, and that after digging and looking through the ruins of the house, the investigator ruled the cause of the fire as undetermined.

One challenge with this particular fire, according to Ames, was that firefighters had to watch for standing walls collapsing outward, away from the house, which could have hit and injured them. The fire sent hot cinders into the air, and Ames said at least one neighboring home may have been damaged by those flying particles.

Wickenden, the homeowner, was at the scene Tuesday, Sept. 13, along with an insurance agent and workers from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, who were cleaning up a spill from the home’s heating oil tank.

Robert Williams, an oil and hazardous materials specialist with DEP, said roughly 150 gallons of oil leaked out of the home’s heating oil tank — about half its capacity. The tank appeared to have been knocked over in the blaze, or possibly blown away from the house as a result of the explosion.

Williams said much of the oil on the surface had been sopped up. The next step would be to remove contaminated soil, he said, citing a rough rule of thumb of one yard of soil per gallon of oil. Williams said the DEP would be monitoring wells in the area that might be at risk for contamination.

Speaking from the scene, Wickenden said the explosion that was reported took place in the basement, and noted that the fire moved quickly.

“It was pretty dramatic,” he said. “The fire chief said he was there in nine minutes and there was nothing to save.”

Wickenden, who lives in Northport, said he was affected by seeing the burnt home on Pines Road, but he believed it was more difficult for his tenants.

“You could see it in talking to them,” he said, “the sensory awareness of almost being inside it.”

The house was built in 1996, according to Wickenden, and an addition was put on six or seven years later. He confirmed that the home was insured, and said he plans to rebuild on the site.

“It’s just a new page in the history,” he said. “If one of them hadn’t made it out, it would be a different ball game. As it is, you go on.”

[Editor’s note: A fundraiser is in the works to help the O’Briens. For more information on the fundraiser, visit: susieandkevinobrien.wordpress.com. That website will be updated as more details about the fundraising effort become available. Additionally, a fund called the O’Brien Fire Fund has been set up through Camden National Bank, and starting Wednesday, Sept. 14, donations will be accepted at any of the bank’s branch offices.]