BUCKSPORT, Maine — Firefighters rescued a young mother and her 8-month-old daughter from a burning downtown apartment building early Friday morning.
Other residents of the seven-unit, three-story building on the corner of Franklin and Central streets had tried to alert the woman to the 3:30 a.m. fire by banging on her door and calling her apartment, but got no response.
“It was her baby’s screaming that woke her up,” one of the residents, who did not want to be identified, said later Friday.
The fire started in a downstairs apartment and was reported at 3:36 a.m. It was concentrated in one apartment on the first floor, and firefighters who were on the scene within three minutes were able to get to the second-floor apartment to rescue the woman and her child. The fire station is located just a block from where the fire occurred.
“She was unaware of what was going on until just as we were knocking her door down,” said Bucksport Fire Chief Craig Bowden.
Firefighters were able to bring the woman, Rachel Coombs, and her daughter, Lindsay, down a stairway to safety. Neither she nor the baby was injured.
No one was injured in the blaze, but seven families were left homeless.
The woman who lived in the apartment where the fire started said she woke to find her home in flames.
“I was asleep. I don’t know what woke me up. There was an alarm going off in the hall,” said the woman, who also declined to be identified. “I was in a daze. The chair was on fire. The bedding was on fire, and the curtain. There were flames going up the wall.”
She grabbed her purse, ran outside and started banging on her neighbors’ doors, she said later Friday morning.
“She’s a hero,” said one neighbor, who also was staying at the Bucksport Motel after the fire. “We’re safe because of her.”
A Bucksport police officer was on the scene within a minute after the call came in and reported that there were people trapped on the upper floors. When the first firefighters arrived on the scene about two minutes later, “we went into rescue mode,” Fire Chief Bowden said.
While Officer Matt Cyr of the police department helped to man a fire hose, three rescue crews went into the burning building, using thermal imaging cameras to search for tenants who might not have gotten out. They soon realized that everyone was out except for the young woman and her baby.
At first, Bowden said, the woman thought her boyfriend was still in the building, too, and firefighters did a second and third sweep of the structure. They later learned he had left earlier to go to work.
With three rescue crews inside the building, Bowden said, there was just one crew actually fighting the fire. Once they were sure the building was clear, all firefighters concentrated on dowsing the fire and were able to knock it down in about 15 minutes. Crews remained on the scene for another three or four hours.
The fire destroyed the one apartment, but was contained to that apartment and the exterior of the building. There was still enough smoke and water damage that owner Dino Kisamitakis does not expect the building to be habitable for most of the winter.
When residents of the burning building were first evacuated, they were placed in fire and police vehicles and ambulances in order to keep them warm. According to the National Weather Service, the temperature in the area dropped to a low of zero degrees Fahrenheit overnight.
Later, St. Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic Church, located across Central Street from the apartment building, opened its basement, and residents were moved there. Firefighters set up support services and food in the church basement.
Erin Merrill, executive director of the Pine Tree Chapter of the American Red Cross, was in Bucksport with volunteers later Friday trying to assist victims of the fire. Merrill said the Red Cross was working with 11 people who had lived in the apartment building.
“We’re providing food and seasonal clothing, and we’re putting some of them up at the motel,” said Merrill from the Bucksport Motel where she was interviewing the now-homeless tenants.
The woman whose apartment burned was staying at the Bucksport Motel later Friday morning. Some of the other displaced tenants were staying with family in the area.
The Red Cross had volunteer counselors available to meet with fire victims if they were needed, Merrill said.
The fire chief and an investigator from the state fire marshal’s office inspected the apartment building Friday. According to Bowden, it appears the fire was caused by “improper disposal of smoking materials.”
Bucksport firefighters were assisted at the scene by crews from Orland, Orrington and Dedham along with the ladder truck crew from Ellsworth.