Middlebury man loses life in fire

MIDDLEBURY — State and local investigators on Thursday morning were still combing through the charred remains of a home at 7 Murdock Court, Middlebury, in search of the cause of a blaze that took the life of 95-year-old Robert Kellogg.
The retired teacher and counselor who had lived in Middlebury for nearly three decades was remembered as an active member of the community who, in the words of one former neighbor, “lived an ordinary life in what seemed to me to be an extraordinary way.”
Middlebury firefighters were holding their monthly meeting at their Seymour Street headquarters last Wednesday evening when at 7:50 p.m. they received a call about the Murdock Court house fire, according to Chief Dave Shaw. Their presence at the station and its proximity to Murdock Court — a one-block street that is off Weybridge Street — allowed firefighters to get into their gear and arrive at the fire scene within around 5 minutes.
The caller was a grandson of Mr. Kellogg who also lived there, and returned home from work to find the home filled with smoke. He told the 911 dispatcher that he feared the elderly man might still be inside the home.
The firefighters first encountered a small fire at the front of the building, which ultimately precipitated an explosion — or “flashover,” as Shaw described it — as air suddenly reached and fed the flames within the structure, according to Shaw. The explosion blew the windows out of the home.
Some of the approximately 45 responding firefighters fought the blaze at the front of the home, while others made their way into the rear of the structure.
“They were met with heavy smoke and heat conditions,” Shaw said of firefighters entering the back end of the building.
The firefighters persevered and found Mr. Kellogg on the floor of the kitchen/dining room area.
“He had succumbed to the fire,” Shaw said, theorizing Mr. Kellogg might have died from a health event prior to the blaze, or simply became overwhelmed by smoke inhalation.
Kellogg’s death came as a jolt to both firefighters and residents of what Shaw described as a “pretty tight” Murdock Court community. He would have celebrated his 96th birthday on Sunday.
“Our guys were pretty shook up over (Mr. Kellogg’s) death,” Shaw said. “You never want to see that, especially during the holiday season. We have great remorse for the family.”
The New Haven and Weybridge fire departments assisted Middlebury in responding to the blaze; around 10 fire trucks responded to the scene. Thanks to their efforts, firefighters had contained the fire within an hour and 15 minutes and remained on scene until around midnight, according to Shaw. A few crew members stayed near the site overnight, to make sure there were no flare-ups or safety concerns.
Temperatures Wednesday night were hovering around 20 degrees, so firefighters fortunately did not have to contend with the sub-zero conditions expected Thursday and Friday nights.
Shaw called the one-and-a-half story home a “complete loss.”
A half-dozen state officials were investigating the fire scene with Shaw on Thursday to pinpoint a cause of the fire.
 “They haven’t ruled out anything,” Shaw said of the investigators. Potential causes ranging from an electrical malfunction to arson were still on the table as of Thursday morning, officials said.
Neighbors and friends late last week expressed sadness at the loss of Bob Kellogg, who would have marked his 96th birthday on Sunday. Kellogg graduated from Middlebury College in the class of 1948, married classmate Marya Steele and had a career as a teacher, guidance counselor and job counselor.
Bob and Marya retired to Middlebury in 1988 to a house at the end of a short street just steps from the college campus. They were active in town, volunteering together at the Sheldon Museum and singing in the Middlebury Community Chorus. Bob Kellogg was also a member of the Friends of the Art Museum, active with his college class and worshiped at the Champlain Valley Unitarian Universalist Society.
Marya Kellogg passed away on Sept. 18, 2012.
Several people remarked on how active Bob kept even as he grew older. Brian Slavin, a former neighbor, said Bob always had a long to-do list and Bob told him many times that if he had 10 more years to live he might just get everything done.
Slavin shared this story on Bob Kellogg’s self-reliance.
One fall day after my family first moved into the neighborhood, I was working in the garden and noticed a man on the roof cleaning the gutters out at the Kelloggs’ house. I was thinking as I looked at the height of the house that it took a sure-footed person to complete that task and thanked God it wasn’t me. As I watched this person pull out clods of leaves from the gutters with confidence and speed I noticed that it wasn’t some young daredevil, it was Mr. Kellogg himself! I wondered how an almost 90-year-old man could feel safe cleaning out gutters on such a tall house? I talked to him a few days later and asked him how he felt about being up so high. He said, “Well, I learned that if I tied a rope around my waist and tethered it to the chimney, I felt safe.”
Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected]; John S. McCright is at [email protected].

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