BATH, Maine — Late Monday night, Maria Woodman received the phone call no mother wants: Her baby sitter saying her home was burning.
“My first thought was for my kids,” said Woodman. “All three of them were in bed.”
The baby sitter quickly put her worst fear to rest — the kids were safe, albeit with only their pajamas — but that was only the beginning of an ordeal that threatens to leave Woodman and the children homeless. Monday night’s fire at 20D Windjammer Way in Bath gutted her apartment and destroyed nearly everything she owned. The state fire marshal’s office said the fire started in a dryer vent and intensified when a tank on a propane grill outside popped its relief valve and spewed torch-like fire against the building.
Despite information from the Bath Fire Department, which was published Tuesday by the Bangor Daily News, the apartment did not have a lone male occupant. He was the baby sitter. Woodman, a member of the Morse High School Class of 2005 and lifelong Bath resident, has lived in the apartment with her children for the past three years.
As Woodman made her way home, she was on the phone with friends and neighbors about the extent of the damage.
“I was preparing myself,” she said. “They kept saying my house was gone, but I didn’t believe them. I was hoping people were just blowing it out of proportion.”
They weren’t. The damage to Woodman’s apartment was devastating. Flames tore through the living space and burned through the roof. Firefighters who spent all night at the scene had to cut holes in the floor to douse flames in a crawl pace. The windows and doors were gone and all the furniture lay in charred and twisted heaps. Apartments on either side of Woodman’s were also damaged, mostly by smoke and water.
The American Red Cross has been paying for the Woodman family to stay at a hotel in Bath. That assistance expires on Monday, Jan. 23 when 26-year-old Woodman will use some general assistance funding from the city to pay for another hotel room for two more nights. As of Wednesday morning, though, she and the kids will be homeless. She has hopes of finding another home in the Maritime Apartments complex, but isn’t optimistic that one will be available in time.
“I don’t let my kids know how serious it is,” said Woodman on Saturday. “I tell them, ‘you didn’t like Mommy’s apartment anyway, so now we can get a new one.’ If you ask them where we live, they say ‘we don’t have a home. We live in a hotel.’ As for their toys, I tell them they’re lucky because they get to have another Christmas.”
What she doesn’t tell them is that she doesn’t know how she will replace their belongings. She has little money — she cares for the children full time — and did not have her belongings insured. She and the children’s father are divorced.
Two thrift stores in Bath and the Bath Area Family YMCA have collected and donated some outfits for the children, but Woodman said everything she owns at this point could fit in the trunk of a car. Asked if she will accept donations, she said anyone who wants to help can call her at 837-9698. Her 5-year-old daughter Annabelle wears size 5-6T; 4-year-old Emily wears 4T and 2-year-old Adam wears 2T. The toddler wears size 4 diapers.
Woodman said she fears that when the general assistance money runs out, she will be forced to move into a homeless shelter — if she can find one with space for her family. She’s also concerned for one of her neighbors, Amber Varnum, who also has three children. Varnum, who could not be reached by the Bangor Daily News, also lost a lot to smoke and water damage, said Woodman.
Among the lost items are Woodman’s most valued possessions: hundreds of family photographs. Somehow, a few of Woodman’s items did survive the fire, including one of each child’s Christmas presents: toy puppies that can be “fed” for the girls and a 52-piece train set for little Adam.
“That was just by luck,” she said. “Everything else is gone. I have had moments, but I’m trying to keep it together. Whether I cry or not, my stuff is gone.”