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Fire Destroys Family’s Garage in Lebanon

  • Lebanon firefighter Todd Hamilton talks with Assistant Chief Jeff Libbey while trying to get water pumped up a steep 1,000-foot driveway from Eastman Hill Road to fight a fire in a three-bay garage yesterday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Lebanon firefighter Todd Hamilton talks with Assistant Chief Jeff Libbey while trying to get water pumped up a steep 1,000-foot driveway from Eastman Hill Road to fight a fire in a three-bay garage yesterday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Lebanon Fire Inspector Jonathan Paul talks with homeowners Mike and Christine Michalenoick after their garage was destroyed by fire. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Lebanon Fire Inspector Jonathan Paul talks with homeowners Mike and Christine Michalenoick after their garage was destroyed by fire. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hanover Fire Capt. Jeremy Thibeault clears debris after a three-bay garage on Eastman Hill Road in Lebanon burned yesterday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Hanover Fire Capt. Jeremy Thibeault clears debris after a three-bay garage on Eastman Hill Road in Lebanon burned yesterday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Lebanon firefighter Charlie Barker works at pulling down a wall of a garage that was destroyed by fire on Eastman Hill Road in Lebanon. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

    Lebanon firefighter Charlie Barker works at pulling down a wall of a garage that was destroyed by fire on Eastman Hill Road in Lebanon. (Valley News - James M. Patterson) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Lebanon firefighter Todd Hamilton talks with Assistant Chief Jeff Libbey while trying to get water pumped up a steep 1,000-foot driveway from Eastman Hill Road to fight a fire in a three-bay garage yesterday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Lebanon Fire Inspector Jonathan Paul talks with homeowners Mike and Christine Michalenoick after their garage was destroyed by fire. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Hanover Fire Capt. Jeremy Thibeault clears debris after a three-bay garage on Eastman Hill Road in Lebanon burned yesterday. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)
  • Lebanon firefighter Charlie Barker works at pulling down a wall of a garage that was destroyed by fire on Eastman Hill Road in Lebanon. (Valley News - James M. Patterson)

The phone call from a friend came shortly before noon, carrying one of the worst messages that can be delivered to an unsuspecting adult: Your house is on fire, Mike Michalenoick was told.

A short distance away , black smoke was pouring from his property high atop Eastman Hill, visible to thousands of people in surrounding towns and drivers on Interstate 89, signaling that, surely, something large was ablaze.

Among those who could see the smoke was his wife, Christine, who stepped outside the Enfield Community Building after she received a phone call, saw the blackness rise from the hill and thought immediately of their three month old dog.

“I saw the smoke, a lot of smoke (and thought) where is Buck?” Christine Michalenoick said. “That would have been a million times worse. Just the dog, not the stuff.”

The couple were relieved to learn that the initial call was not quite accurate: The fire was in their large, detached garage, which was home to an office and an array of recreational vehicles but, fortunately, not Buck or any possessions that sat unharmed inside their nearby home. No one was injured.

Firefighters said there was little they could do to save the three bay garage, which had a working wood stove. Their job was made more challenging by the remote location of Michalenoick’s home, which sits at the end of a steep, quarter mile long driveway near the summit of Eastman Hill, two miles off Route 4.

Fire crews struggled to get water to the scene — at one point, after the garage’s fate had been sealed, they ran out of water — and fierce winds blowing around the property helped spread the flames, Assistant Lebanon Fire Chief Jeffrey Libbey said. And when they first arrived, firefighters could hear the crackling pop of ammunition, forcing them to momentarily stay back.

Even accounting for those factors, by the time firefighters arrived atop Eastman Hill, there wasn’t much they could do, Libbey said. Flames shot through the roof and every window and door opening.

“On our way, we would see black smoke on the horizon, so we knew it was pretty much gone,” Libbey said.

Fire investigators were working to determine the cause of the fire yesterday afternoon, Libbey said, and had no preliminary conclusions.

Michalenoick, owner of the Carpet Mill in Lebanon, said that only in the past year had he finished building a second floor office in the garage, though he took some solace in his recent decision to move a Jeep from the detached garage to his attached garage.

As flaming pieces of the garage roof fell to the ground, firefighters drove the Michaelenoicks’ snowmobile and ATV, which were on the lawn nearby, further away to safety.

Two tankers were quickly on the scene, carrying 1,000 gallons of water, Libbey said, but that didn’t last long.

Gravity and distance then began working against firefighters. They began pumping water up the steep driveway, but it was difficult to build up pressure. Firefighters ended up making several runs to a water tank at Whaleback Mountain, transporting it to the base of the driveway, and pumping it up through hoses to the house.

“They tried to get it knocked down initially, but it didn’t happen,” Libbey said. “We knew we would probably run out of water at some point. There was so many of these conditions against us, (but) the water supply is most important. If you don’t have it, you don’t have a chance.”

Mark Davis can be reached at mcdavis@vnews.com or 603-727-3304.