BANGOR, Maine — What started as a typical Tuesday morning for Mike Watson and Katrina Sibley was turned upside down when a neighbor started banging on the door of their unit at a Moosehead Boulevard apartment complex.
The Bangor couple evacuated their unit quickly, and it’s a good thing they did, as a midmorning fire engulfed the public housing complex at 82-88 Moosehead Blvd., which is located at the corner of Fort Knox Avenue.
Firefighters were dispatched to the scene at about 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, and the fire was under control shortly after noon. Six families — a total of 20 people — were displaced in the blaze, but nobody was injured.
According to Sibley, who lives with Watson in Unit 86, her next-door neighbor evacuated her apartment and was quick to warn Sibley and Watson.
“Luckily they were banging the crap out of my door,” Sibley said. “The neighbor did an awesome job.”
Smoke and flames quickly erupted from the roof, and Fort Knox Avenue was subsequently closed to traffic by 11 a.m.
Bangor Assistant Fire Chief Rick Cheverie said the first crews that responded to the blaze could see smoke while on Ohio Street.
“When they arrived on scene at 10:35 this morning, the entire back of the building was engulfed in heavy smoke,” Cheverie said.
Crews from Bangor and Brewer responded to the fire, which Cheverie called an “all-hands” fire, thus requiring all of the Queen City’s fire personnel to head to the scene.
People from throughout the neighborhood poured out of their units to watch firefighters battle the blaze, and many were snapping pictures.
Unit 82, which is where the fire started, had an “extensive amount of damage,” along with neighboring Unit 84, according to Cheverie.
The fire was quick to spread to Units 86 and 88.
“There was a common attic space across the entire length of this complex,” Cheverie said. “The fire was pretty much stopped midway in the attic space of 86.”
The female renter of Unit 82, who appeared to be visibly shaken, declined to speak with reporters at the scene. She was not home when the fire broke out, according to neighbors.
However, the woman’s two cats were inside the unit, and Cheverie said one of the animals had been pulled from the building.
“Rescue attempts were done on the cat,” Cheverie said. “We do not know the prognosis of the cat.”
Cheverie added the woman’s other cat had not been accounted for Tuesday afternoon, and fire crews were searching the unit for the animal. No firefighters or tenants were injured, Cheverie said.
“We went with defensive operations until we knocked down the fire and then we cautiously went back in,” he said.
Cheverie said the cause of the blaze is unknown, and the State Fire Marshal’s Office will be called in to investigate.
When the flames spread to the roof of the complex, a ladder truck was quickly brought in, and that proved crucial in knocking down the flames.
“Every time we have a fire and you have a fire that is burning in the attic like this one here, you’re always concerned for your crews,” Cheverie said.
Once the roof started to sag, Cheverie pulled all firefighters out of the building for their safety.
Mike Myatt, executive director of Bangor Housing Authority, which owns the complex, said the displaced families lived in Units 82-88. Units 90 and 92, which are on the far end of the building, weren’t affected by the fire.
Myatt said that those affected by the fire were at the Bangor Housing Authority’s gym Tuesday afternoon, and that BHA staffers were working with the Pine Tree Chapter of the American Red Cross.
“We’ve been able to basically get in touch with all the families and everyone will have a place to go tonight,” Myatt said.
Myatt added that some families will be provided hotel rooms by the Red Cross, while others will be given accommodations in apartments that were “either just vacated or were in the process of being offered to somebody else.”
“Those solutions may be temporary but will probably be permanent,” he said. “The community has been phenomenal in the sense that people are dropping off furniture, clothes, diapers and whatever.”
Gretchen O’Grady, emergency services director for the local Red Cross chapter, said that each family has been provided a debit card to purchase items such as food.
The children who were living in the units ranged from infants to high school age, according to Myatt, and once smoke alarms went off, tenants scattered from their units with nothing but the clothes on their backs.
“These are large families,” he said. “In some units, people are starting from scratch.”
Myatt and his crew weren’t let inside the complex Tuesday afternoon as officials began their investigation, but he believes that the four units affected by the fire will be uninhabitable.
“We have a few vacancies that we can try to transfer people to quickly,” he said. “Our priority is to get the people who are permanently displaced into new units.”