What started as a grease fire spread quickly through a home in Milton, completely destroying the structure Wednesday, Nov. 4th, 2015.

MILTON, Vt. — A Milton woman was pulled in her wheelchair to safety from a kitchen fire that destroyed her house Wednesday morning.

The home’s owner and sole occupant, Marie O’Connor, 83, sustained non-life-threatening burns and was taken to the University of Vermont Medical Center, Milton Fire Chief Don Turner said.

A hospital spokesperson said O’Connor was listed in good condition Wednesday afternoon.

Had it not been for the chance appearance of Chris Fanning, a Starksboro-based contractor who had been driving along Everest Road at about 10:30 a.m., “this could so easily have been a fatal,” Turner said.

During an interview later in the day with the Burlington Free Press, Fanning said he spotted smoke pouring from the home’s roof eaves and screeched to a halt.

“I got out of my truck and ran up to the door,” Fanning said. “I could hear someone screaming inside. The screen door was kind of stuck, so I ripped it off.

“Something was blocking the front door,” Fanning continued. “I could see the bottom of a wheelchair, but I couldn’t see anyone in it because of the smoke, but I could hear her screaming for help. I got down on my knees and crawled in.”

He broke loose whatever had been blocking the motorized wheelchair’s exit, and then pulled O’Connor outside.


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“Flames came flying out, over her head,” Fanning said. “The back of the wheelchair was on fire.”

Laurie Scott, a neighbor on Everest Road, witnessed the rescue and the series of explosions that preceded it.

The back of O’Connor’s head was singed black, as were her hands and arms, Scott said.

O’Connor told Scott she had been in the kitchen when a pan of grease on her stove erupted in a fireball.

The Vermont State Police reported that O’Connor activated her life-alert alarm when it became clear the fire was out of control.

Propane tanks at the other end of the home continued to feed the fire, causing periodic explosions in the kitchen area — although the tanks themselves did not catch fire, Fire Chief Turner said.

Most of the contents of the house were reduced to ash. The exceptions: a kettle atop an iron stove, the skeleton frame of an off-road vehicle, what appeared to be an oxygen tank, and folded sections of roof.

Milton fire, police and rescue squads responded to the blaze, as did crews from Colchester Center, St. Michael’s College and Georgia.

Fanning downplayed his role.

“It was being at the right place at the right time,” he said. “But I plan to take the rest of the day off.”

Follow Joel Banner Baird on Twitter: @vtgoingup

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