RUMFORD —Tuesday's house fire on Hillside Avenue that killed Dale Pellerin, 47, was the town's first fatal fire in nearly 12 years.
The Maine Fire Marshal's Office said Tuesday evening that cigarettes likely caused the fire, which started in the living room.
On Nov. 18, 2000, an unattended candle left beside combustible materials started a fire on the second floor of a three-story apartment at 5 Kerr St. in the same Virginia neighborhood, according to Sun Journal archives.
Two-year-old Nathaniel Thomas Richard died on the third floor, and his father, Adam J. Richard, 25, died Dec. 25 in a Boston hospital of injuries sustained from the fire.
Since then, budget cuts have reduced Rumford's manned station to a bare minimum of three on-duty career firefighters per three shifts, plus the chief. Some shifts at times, however, only had two on-duty firefighters.
And while Chief Bob Chase said Wednesday that he wishes he could have more firefighters early at fires, additional on-duty firefighters probably wouldn't have saved Pellerin or his parents' house at 598 Hillside Ave.
"I don't think that would have made a difference in the outcome of this, but certainly, it would have really helped our operation," Chase said. "Fires in the middle of the day typically get recognized quick in populated areas, but that's on a dead-end street, so it really had a chance to grow before it was noticed."
Additionally, there wasn't any passing traffic at the ranch-style house owned by Dale Pellerin's parents, Bernard E. and Joan Pellerin.
"So it was kind of, I think, a late notification," Chase said.
A neighbor discovered the fire after smelling smoke and called 911. Fifty firefighters from five towns responded.
"It probably flashed over quite violently and it was shortly thereafter that it became noticed, I would think," Chase said.
"Typically, especially in a house that's closed up like that, if you get a smoldering fire, what happens is you continue to build heat and a layer of smoke in the building, and that slowly banks down, generating enough heat until ultimately it flashes over."
Chase said he could tell by the smoke layering — a pattern on the walls that shows where the darkest smoke was — that the fire had smoldered "for quite some time before we got there."
"It gives you an idea of how hot it got before the smoke banked down into the building prior to really lighting it off," he said.
Pellerin's body was found in the bathroom, which led Chase to speculate on why.
"Where the body was found quite a ways away from the point of origin, maybe he had sustained some injuries and was going toward the bathroom to wet it down or whatever the case may be," he said.
When Chase and Rumford police Sgt. Tracey Higley arrived first, Chase said they didn't hear any audible smoke alarms. Chase said he also doesn't recall seeing any.
They were met by heavy smoke coming out the kitchen window and the front door.
Knowing that the building might be occupied, Higley tried to enter through a side door and was overcome by intense smoke and heat. He was taken to Rumford Hospital, treated and released.
Police Chief Stacy Carter said Wednesday that Higley was "doing fine."