LEBANON - When Tim Nice walked out of his Baker's Grant Road auto body shop Wednesday morning and saw smoke coming from the house of his wheelchair-bound neighbor, he thought nothing of it.
It was just a puff of white smoke, and he figured 57-year-old Kevin Struble had his woodstove going like he often did.
But when he came out a few minutes later around 10:30 a.m. and saw plumes of thick, black smoke curling up above the trees surrounding the modest bungalow styled home he knew immediately something was terribly wrong.
"I ran down the driveway as fast as I could, but it was too late," he said Wednesday afternoon. "There were flames pouring out. I couldn't even have opened the door."
Nice said he knew then that Struble was still inside.
"I knew he hadn't gotten out. It had just snowed and there were no wheel tracks on the ramp," he told The Lebanon Voice.
Both Nice and another neighbor who arrived at the same time outside the fire-engulfed house at 185 Baker's Grant Road tried to get inside to rescue their neighbor.
On Wednesday afternoon the grieving process of Nice, Kevin's caregivers and others had begun for Struble, who was "rough around the edges but a sweet guy," said Nice's wife, Geneva.
"He was so nice," Geneva Nice said. "Anytime we went anywhere he'd keep an eye on our house. When we'd get back he'd come over in his golf cart to tell us every person and what kind of car they had who'd been here."
Struble, a former New Jersey firefighter, moved to Lebanon several years ago and had worked as a janitor at a Milton school.
Then the first of many tragedies beset the big man when his wife died in the same house about five years ago, Geneva Nice said. Then he developed vascular issues which led to him losing both legs. He also suffered a stroke which led to low vision, though Geneva Nice said he could still get around, most recently on a new motorized wheelchair he acquired.
After spending more than a year at a Portsmouth hospital, he returned home about a year ago, Nice said.
Earlier this year there was more sadness as his mom passed away in July.
Geneva Nice remembered Struble fondly as a guy who loved to hang out with his buddies in a garage where he often tinkered on cars at the foot of his driveway which was directly on Baker's Grant Road and across the street from the Nices.
His home sat close to an eighth of a mile off the road which presented a challenge to firefighters on Wednesday.
Tim Nice, who helped firefighters drag fire hoses, said crews initially got some of the flames out but ran out of water.
The fire eventually went to three alarms
Lebanon Fire and Rescue released no official press release only saying on their Facebook Page, "At 10:37 Lebanon Fire-EMS responded to a possible structure fire. First crews on scene found the single family one story structure well involved.
All crews worked hard to extinguish the fire.
We want to thank our mutual aid companies for their assistance."
The state Fire Marshal's Office was on scene in its mobile van late Wednesday afternoon trying to determine a cause of the fire.
However, while fire investigators said today that the fire started in the basement of the house, because of the extensive damage, the exact cause cannot be determined.
Struble's body was found in the living room near his wheelchair, fire officials said today.
Late Wednesday a backhoe was used to demolish what was left standing of the house for safety reasons.