Electrical problems near Christmas tree start Bangor fire

Posted Dec. 31, 2010, at 1:52 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — A loose electric outlet and an overloaded power plug underneath a Christmas tree are believed to be the cause of an early morning fire Friday that gutted a second-floor apartment on Highland Avenue, fire officials say.

“The cause of the fire was determined to be electrical and it was accidental,” Assistant Bangor Fire Chief Rick Cheverie said Friday afternoon. “The strip that they had underneath [the tree] was way overloaded and there was quite a few issues,” including a loose connection going into the wall.

The fire at 20 Highland Ave. was reported around 4 a.m. and firefighters reached the scene within minutes, he said. Everyone in the building’s three apartments got out safe.

Mike Ellis and Amanda Meader, who live in the first-floor apartment, were allowed back into their apartment after fire crews left at 10 a.m. Ellis recalled how he was awakened by the smoke alarm.

“The smoke alarm went off at about 3:30 in the morning,” Ellis said. “I ran outside and saw smoke pouring out of the upstairs window and ran back inside and got her [Meader], a bag of clothes and my guitar.”

The couple has lived in the downstairs apartment for three years, he said.

“It’s flooded and everything electronic is ruined,” Ellis said. “And it stinks.”

The apartment was flooded by water firefighters used to extinguish the blaze.

By noon, the landlord already had called a cleaning crew and an electrician to restore power to the mostly undamaged apartments of Ellis and Greg Dawes, who lives in a second-floor apartment in the back of the building.

“He got the water and I got the smoke,” Dawes said. “There is no property damage, but everything needs to be cleaned. I just went to the laundromat and now I’ve got to go again.”

The woman who rents the second-floor apartment, where the fire started, banged on Dawes’ door to wake him up, said Dawes, who has lived at the apartment building for about eight months.

“I grabbed my most valuable items and ran,” he said. “My son gave me a $400 Kitchen Aid [mixer]. I grabbed that, my computer and my camera gear.”

Every Bangor firefighter working at 4 a.m. Friday was sent to the scene, Cheverie said.

“It was an all-hands fire,” he said. “All of Bangor Fire’s assets were at the scene. That’s 20 people, every engine company and the aerial [firetruck], three rescue units and the chief’s staff vehicle.”

No injuries were reported. The investigation into the cause was done by Assistant Fire Chief Darrell Cyr and electrical inspector Jeff St. Pierre.

The woman who lives in the apartment where the fire began was standing outside of the apartment building around 12:45 p.m. Friday and could be heard on her cell phone saying that she lost all of her belongings.

“It started at the [expletive] Christmas tree,” she said. “It burned my bed and everything. I lost everything. I lost [expletive] everything.”

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