12 homeless after Pittsfield apartment building fire

Posted Oct. 07, 2012, at 5:45 p.m.

PITTSFIELD, Maine — A woman cooking French fries at midnight Saturday apparently accidentally started a fire that blazed through a three-story apartment building and left 12 people homeless, including children, according to officials.

Chief Bernard Williams said Sunday afternoon that one firefighter was hurt during a long night of battling the Middle Street fire — a man who pulled a muscle in his chest and was checked out by medical personnel. No one else was injured.

“Overall I think it was a pretty successful operation by any standard,” he said.

The fire was first reported by a police officer who heard a noise that he said likely was a window exploding in the house. He looked across at the six-unit apartment building and saw flames shooting out of the upstairs of the home. The woman making French fries lived on the third floor.

An officer who was reporting for duty that night went inside the house and got everybody up and out, Williams said.

“Everybody was accounted for,” he said.

When firefighters arrived, they found a building engulfed by flames and heavy smoke, he said.

“There was a lot of heat inside the building,” Williams said.

More than 40 people altogether fought the fire in the 35-foot-tall structure. Fire crews from Newport, Burnham, St. Albans and Skowhegan assisted at the scene, with Hartland crews standing by at their station to provide emergency coverage.

While much of the fire was extinguished within an hour and a half, the building has been repeatedly remodeled, so firefighters worked until 6 a.m. to make sure they had it all out.

“It’s time-consuming, especially on a building that tall,” he said. “The height and the construction made it challenging.”

Firefighters learned that there was a propane tank stored inside the building, which was a concern, but they were able to locate it and take care of it safely.

“People worry about these 10,000-gallon propane tanks. You can see those,” the chief said. “It’s those little one-pound ones people put on camp stoves — I worry about them.”

Building owner James Banks, who also lived there, did not have insurance, Williams said.

“He’s undecided what he’s going to do about it,” he said.

Williams thinks the first two floors can be salvaged, but described the third floor as “questionable.”

“We had a lot of fire in there,” he said.

Officials contacted the American Red Cross, which had a representative come that night and offer help to the residents, which included three or four children, he said.

“I suspect they must have given them some emergency shelter, motels and such,” Williams said.

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