July 25, 2021

Disaster Area> Burnham; Independent attitude abounds

BURNHAM — The sizzling noise of frying meat returned to S&S Variety here Tuesday afternoon, a sound sorely absent for a week at this gathering point for a community of 1,000.

As Central Maine Power crews gave the town its first bit of electricity in the morning, the store was one of a dozen buildings brought back on line.

A convenience store with an electric grill and oven, S&S Variety was a handy stop before the ice storm began — it became a godsend in the storm’s wake. “We were running it with a calculator and flashlight at times,” said Susan Huff, who owns the store with her husband, Stuart Huff.

Burnham is one of the 24 small towns in Waldo County that were hit hard by the ice storm, losing all electricity on Wednesday and Thursday and with many homes losing telephone service.

The town’s attitude of independence is not unusual for Maine communities, but Burnham’s far-flung location — it’s about as far away from the Belfast county seat as a town can get — required its residents to look only to themselves for assistance.

The Huffs have kept their store open since the power went out, closing when it got dark. But they live in a large house beside the store, and many customers would come over to their house in the evening and ask them to open the store for a few minutes.

And the Huffs went much further than just selling batteries, bread, propane and milk — all of which sold out. The couple took in Mark and Rita Sturtevant and their baby girl Mary, who lived two blocks down the street. “We didn’t even really know them before the storm,” said Mark Sturtevant. “It’s a helluva way to make friends with someone.”

Sitting in the Huffs’ kitchen beside a large gray and black wood-burning cook stove Tuesday, Sturtevant told of the pots of coffee and vats of stew and chowder the Huffs made for townsfolk looking for a hot meal. “That stove is what did it all,” he said.

Erik Parker, whose company, Whatever Construction, is in the midst of building a new fire hall for the town, donated the use of a generator to the store. “I’ve got a four-man crew that’s ready to help CMP,” Parker said Tuesday.

Caroline Mitchell, the town clerk, said many people without power didn’t want to leave their homes and have tried to “tough it out.” Generators have circulated throughout the town to operate furnaces, refrigerators and wells for short intervals.

Another popular gathering point in town is the Burnham Bubbling Spring on Horseback Road. On Monday morning there was a steady flow of cars into the narrow driveway to the rural freshwater spring. Mike Sadulski of rural Burnham backed up his four-wheel drive pickup to the spring to fill five- and 10-gallon containers. Sadulski has been filling them every other day, then heating water atop his wood stove.

Ken Call, also of Burnham, has been delivering water from the spring to four families since the power went out. “I’m far from the only one who has been doing this,” he said. “We’ve all got wells out this way — no city water.”

“I think we had about the same amount of damage around here as any of the surrounding towns did,” said Clyde Wishart, director of Burnham’s Civil Emergency Preparedness. He said the people of Burnham traditionally have “lived cautiously,” never entirely abandoning wood heating and keeping their food shelves well-stocked.

“One thing about our town is that the people carry on good communication with each other,” he said. That’s helped, he said, by that fact many neighbors share a blood relation — they, as a matter of course, know how each other is doing.

That neighbor watches after neighbor is probably nowhere more evident than in the temporary storm shelter that opened Sunday at the Burnham Village School, which is now using the generator donated by Whatever Construction. On Tuesday afternoon, George Farewell, a custodian at the school, sat alone in the school beside rows of empty cots and watched cartoon videos on the television. “We haven’t had a whole lot of people come — maybe six or seven,” he said, adding that many more people had stopped in to fill water jugs. “It’s been kind of boring around here,” he said.

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