FARMINGTON — Brothers Scott and Jacob MacLean, 23 and 19 respectively, sat opposite each other in the living room of their mobile home off Farmington Falls Road playing World of Warcraft Classic on their computers. It was a crisp, cloudless Monday morning.
Scott’s girlfriend, Kelsey Parlin, was sleeping in a bedroom down the hall from the living room. The boys’ father, Shannon, was away at work. Their mother, Betty, was across town with the family dog, Jack, at a property Scott owned.
Scott would soon see what he described as a sandstorm of white matter erupt around them, followed by a loud boom.
At 8:07 a.m., the Farmington Fire Department had received a call reporting a gas leak at the building housing Life Enrichment Advancing People, a nonprofit that provides services for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities located at 313 Farmington Falls Road. Renovations to the building, including the addition of a second story, had just been completed in August.
The MacLeans’ mobile home is just behind the LEAP building. On the road off to the side of the LEAP building, children from the mobile home park had earlier boarded their bus and were headed off to school.
After smelling gas in the basement, the LEAP building’s maintenance manager evacuated the offices. Farmington firefighters arrived to investigate the reported leak.
At 8:28 a.m., the building exploded. In seconds, the two-story building was gone, insulation and wood spreading all over the site and beyond, the power of the blast wrecking the 11 mobile homes in the nearby park.
The Macleans were among dozens whose lives were instantly changed by the blast, which shook the Farmington community to its core. The explosion that left a fire captain dead and seven others injured also left 30 mobile home residents homeless.
Scott MacLean was sitting on the couch in his living room looking out the window toward the back of the LEAP building when it blew up. The front door of the mobile home was blown back into the inside wall. Dust and insulation filled the house.
His first instinct was to get his family together and get out of the house.
He called his mother, Betty, to see if she had the family dog. The two brothers assured their mother that they were OK, but she was not convinced.
“I was freaked out,” Betty said. “They told me that they were OK, but I was yelling at them for three minutes (through the phone) that I had the dog, and they couldn’t hear me. I know that they’re not OK.”
Unable to get hold of her husband and stuck across town with no vehicle, Betty MacLean said she felt helpless.
“I was stuck,” she said. “I was really freaking out.”
The boys’ father, Shannon, was working just down the road at Good Times Unlimited RV Sales and Service. He was a quarter mile away when the blast nearly knocked him off a ladder.
“I tore out of there as fast as I could go,” Shannon MacLean said. “I thought my kids were dead.
“When I got to the yard, there was still debris falling from the sky. (My friend) Mike came out and we both ran to my trailer to get my kids.”
Once Shannon determined that his kids were OK, he ran to other mobile homes to check on his neighbors. In the panic of the moment, he had left his phone at work.
“I was scared out of my mind. I was screaming,” he said. “I was so mad because (the propane tank) blew the place up, and we could smell (propane) forever out there.”
Parlin does not recall much about the blast, but she does remember screaming loudly. She thought she was living through a bombing.
“It was just white everywhere,” she said. “I couldn’t calm down and I kept inhaling the insulation, which sent me into a deeper panic.”
Parlin got out of her bed just before the trailer wall collapsed onto the mattress. Clad only in a spaghetti-strap tank top and shorts, she escaped with only a few cuts on her foot from broken glass.
“I thought the world was ending,” Parlin said. “I have never screamed so loudly and frantically in my life.”
The blast killed veteran Fire Capt. Michael Bell, 68, a 30-year member of the Farmington Fire Department, and seriously injured six firefighters, including Bell’s brother, Fire Rescue Chief Terry Bell, and the maintenance manager, Larry Lord.
Preliminary investigations show that propane fueled the explosion. The blast was strong enough to blow vehicles across nearby intersections. People reported hearing it from 30 miles away in Hartford.
“It just shook the whole house and knocked stuff off of our walls,” said Steve Cutler, who lives about half a mile away from the site on Davis Road.
Betty and Shannon MacLean say they’ve smelled propane on and off for months. Other residents, some of whom did not want to be named, said that the smell of gas has been around since renovations began at the building.
The MacLeans say they didn’t report the leak because they had already complained about the trash left behind at the construction site.
Debbie Higgins and her husband were sleeping in their mobile home when the LEAP building exploded just yards away.
“There was a mirror in our bedroom that was glued to the wall. That’s what woke me up,” she said. “It smashed into my face and then the window blew in. My whole bedroom was covered in glass, and I couldn’t figure out how to get us out.”
“We’re alright. We have bruises and bumps, but we’re alright.”
Since the explosion, Higgins has been staying in Wilton with friends. She believes that her home, with one side bowed, is a total loss. Her two dogs are staying with her brother in Falmouth.
“Thank God we have renters insurance,” Higgins said.
Higgins said a neighbor who was pregnant had a cesarean section delivery because she had a dangerously high heart rate following the explosion. Higgins said the neighbor delivered her baby about 10 days before her expected due-date and the family is fine.
Higgins went back to her home Thursday by herself with a list of things that she hoped to retrieve. Her husband is disabled and cannot walk through the debris. She is considering relocating altogether to be close to her family in and near Falmouth.
Maggie Camilleri and her partner, Ashlan Ankers, were not home when the LEAP building exploded. Their mobile home is salvageable, but the couple does not have insurance on their personal property.
“You don’t expect stuff like this to happen,” she said. “We don’t have a whole lot of valuable stuff. It’s just the stuff you don’t think of, like the socks and toothbrushes that you have to go out and buy all over again.”
Camilleri was able to retrieve her cats Wednesday, she said. They were found near the damaged home.
Camilleri and Ankers lived at the home with Camilleri’s daughter, who is now staying with her father.
“Our house is one of the three that is repairable, but they said it will be quite a while before power is restored and things can happen, so we’re looking for another place to live,” she said. “I’m glad it wasn’t a lot worse for us.”
Camilleri and Ankers went to their home Thursday and retrieved a keyboard and clothing.
Jaime Green, who lives in the mobile home park with her family, including two children aged 8 and 10, said that her kids were not near the blast. The family’s main concern was retrieving the family’s second dog, who was found early Thursday morning by a neighbor.
“They’re going to be so happy,” she said.
On Thursday, when the tenants of the mobile home park were allowed to re-enter their homes for the first time since Monday’s explosion, their landlord, Randy Dean, was at the site to talk with them.
Dean said the mobile homes are insured, but it is up to the individuals renting them to insure their belongings. Of the 11 properties, Dean said, only three are salvageable.
While Dean is working to rehabilitate the homes, he understands that the families who lived there may not want to come back once they are repaired or replaced.
“Just do what’s best for your families right now,” he told tenants Thursday as they waited to gather their belongings.
“I am just thankful that none of my tenants have any serious injuries,” Dean said.
Earlier in the week, he said he was concerned about his tenants. “Many of these people are living paycheck to paycheck. I hope that none of them are forgotten in all of this.”
Each tenant was encouraged to take photos of their belongings to document the damage for tax purposes later in the year.
Parlin retrieved a few pairs of shoes, her work clothes and her copy of a book, “13 Reasons Why.” She also found a few photos and family keepsakes that survived.
“This is the stuff you can’t replace,” she said, holding a large “M” decorated with photos of the family.
Several organizations have stepped in to assist the displaced tenants, including the American Red Cross, United Way of the Tri-Valley Area and local schools. However, much of the immediate help providing food, clothing and housing is available to individuals for only a few days.
Housing in the area is also limited, with much of it recently occupied by students at the University of Maine at Farmington.
GoFundMe fundraisers have also been created for specific individuals.
The MacLeans went back to their damaged home Friday to gather larger household belongings, including Parlin’s 2001 Chevy Tahoe, which was parked in back of the home and was shielded from the explosion.
The family has also attended counseling sessions offered at a nearby hospital.
“Our priority is to find new housing,” Scott MacLean said. “Our permanent living situation is up in the air, and we are looking to find a home that will work for the five of us.”
Scott MacLean, his brother and Parlin have been staying at the Farmington Motel with assistance from the American Red Cross. Betty and Shannon are staying in a camper on the property that Scott owns across town.
Scott MacLean had been saving money to install a well and septic system on the property. He had been trying to get a loan with Parlin to buy a new trailer next spring, but has put those plans on hold until the family can get back on their feet.
In the wake of all this, the MacLean family has become closer. Holding a photo she had saved of herself and Scott taken when they started dating almost six years ago, Parlin smiled.
“It just means that we’re in this together forever,” he said.