RUMFORD — A mother and her three young children escaped from their burning apartment on Wednesday morning, after one child accidentally set her bed on fire while playing with matches, according to a neighbor.
While firefighters from Rumford, Mexico, Dixfield and Peru worked to extinguish the 7:45 a.m. fire at 25 Erchles St., neighbor Cindy Tuttle said the mother, Jennifer Moody, had taken the children to Rumford Hospital to be checked.
"Jen ran to my house with her kids and we stuck them in a vehicle to make sure they were all safe," Tuttle said while standing watch over Moody's seven German shepherd puppies — all in a large red plastic container — and the puppies' father, Mickey.
Firefighters rescued the puppies and their parents, after knocking the fire down, according to Rumford fire Chief Robert Chase. The family pets were unharmed.
"There were flames shooting out of the windows right upstairs," Tuttle said when she first saw the fire.
Looking at a broken-out, blackened second-floor window, she said the room behind it was the children's bedroom in the two-story duplex in Rumford's Brick Park neighborhood.
"Their bed was right here," Tuttle said, pointing to the window, "and the little girl was playing with matches."
Chief Chase, however, said his department had yet to establish the cause of the fire that caused roughly $30,000 in damage to Moody's apartment.
"It can be fixed," Chase said. "It's interior finish damage. Nothing structural was damaged."
Chase said the initial 911 call dispatched to Rumford's station where only two firefighters were on duty, came in as a bedroom accidentally set on fire.
Deputy Chief Chris Bryant and Lt. Sylvanus Glover were the first to arrive, followed by Chief Chase and Mexico fire Lt. Alan Chartier.
Rumford and Mexico fire departments and Med-Care Ambulance have a mutual aid agreement.
Needing additional manpower quickly and before more Mexico firefighters arrived, Bryant called for Rumford's ladder truck crew, and then Dixfield and Peru firefighters.
Bryant, Glover, Chase and Chartier were met with "heavy fire from the second-floor bedroom, with fire extending into the eaves," Chase said. They also couldn't verify if the second apartment in the building was unoccupied, so Chase sent a second team in to search it. No one was home.
According to a clerk in Rumford's tax assessor office, building owners Donald and Erica Cavin live in the second apartment.
Chartier and Chase entered Moody's apartment and were met by the two adult German shepherds, who quickly laid on the living room couch as the fire raged upstairs.
He said that while fighting the fire, they learned there were seven puppies in the basement.
"After we got the fire knocked down, then we got the puppies out of the basement," Chase said.
The building sustained heavy smoke damage throughout most of the second floor, while the first-floor kitchen directly below the bedroom had water damage, he said.
No firefighters were injured, but a child suffering from an asthma attack about an hour after the fire was taken to Rumford Hospital by Med-Care, Chase said. He didn't know if she was a bystander or one of Moody's children.
The Red Cross was contacted and is making arrangements to help the family.