A house at 39 Mt. Ephraim Road burned to the ground Aug. 12. For firefighters from Searsport, Prospect and Stockton Springs, it was a training exercise. For the owner, it was a fiery end to the home she'd occupied for 27 years and the beginning of an entirely new lifestyle.

Denise Blanchette, who bought the stately c.1863 house around 1990, has already poured a 20-by-20-foot slab for the new, energy-efficient tiny house she will build just to the right of the old one.

Fortunately, the slab survived the inferno next door — even after the chimney and end wall of the house toppled onto the new slab, still surrounded by its wooden forms.

"I notched that chimney this morning so it would go the other way," said Searsport Fire Chief Andy Webster. "It didn't work."

Blanchette had several choice words for the fallen wall and the old house in general, which, over the years, had become a bottomless pit into which she threw money. "You … house, you're going to get me to the end!" she yelled, to the amusement of onlookers.

But the slab was "all good," she reported in a text after firefighters finished wetting everything down around 3 p.m.

While personnel from the three towns were getting instructions Sunday morning for the second session of their two-day exercise, Blanchette told The Republican Journal the old house had simply reached the point where it was "not repairable."

"It really had become difficult to manage," she said. "So now I'm going to have this small, energy-efficient house.

"Andy (Webster) and I have been talking about this for a while," she added. "Originally they wanted three weekends of training. They were supposed to burn it at the end of June."

But first Searsport Historical Society had to sign off on the demolition, she said, and then timing got dicey as they tried to coordinate with the other fire departments. And then came calendar conflicts because of Fourth of July celebrations. "So we ended up here," Blanchette said.

Meanwhile, in preparation, she removed roofing shingles and vinyl siding to avoid toxic smoke from the former and melting of the latter.

The building consisted of the original 155-year-old house and a large, newer ell off the back. It was in the ell that firefighters ignited the fire, about 9 a.m., that tested their skills for the next several hours as they let it burn, knocked it back, then let it burn some more.

"I'm impressed," Blanchette said as she watched. "(The fire) was all the way into the attic, and now they've cut it back."

Firefighters trained water on the new slab to protect it, directed hoses at the main house roof and adjacent trees to wet them down, put up a "water curtain" — a fan of water — near the road to deter spreading, and at one point ran a hose across a field to a neighbor's house when heat from the blaze set off that home's fire alarm.

Neighbors viewed the event sitting in lawn chairs set up across the street and standing in a driveway bordering the property. From that vantage point, Blanchette recorded progress with her phone camera and texted updates to family and friends.

Much of the 25-mph section of Mt. Ephraim Road was closed to traffic during the day, because the two hydrants used in the exercise were across the street from the house, and hoses were run across the road.

Chief Webster pointed out Searsport Fire's "new hook and ladder truck," sitting at the edge of the road in front of the burning house. Firefighters had discovered the toy inside the house on Saturday, when they did climbing exercises, Karl Bjorklund explained.

Assistant Chief Herb Kronholm quipped, "Budgets are tight — that's all we could afford."

Blanchette, who is staying temporarily with friends in Augusta, where she works, is looking forward to a new, energy-efficient lifestyle. "All the material — sheet rock, etc. — for the new house is less than I used when I redid the ell," she said.

Her tiny house will be equipped with rooftop solar panels and a heat pump. Blanchette drew a plan, got help from builder friends to refine the design, and will build the house herself with assistance from family and friends.

She has arranged for remaining debris to be pushed into the cellar hole, which will then be filled. If all goes as planned, Blanchette will be living in her new home before snow flies.