MEXICO — Mexico One Stop owners Gary and Renee Collins owe their lives to hard-wired smoke detectors in their apartment above the 1920s-vintage convenience store they’ve owned for 15 years beside Route 17.
Gary Collins said the store’s cast-iron boiler malfunctioned at about 12:30 a.m. Saturday while they slept, filling the store and their apartment with heavy smoke and dangerous levels of carbon monoxide.
“We probably wouldn’t have made it if it hadn’t been for the smoke detectors,” he said to Renee inside the store early Saturday evening. “We could have been toast this morning.”
The resulting fire, which was contained to the store’s supply room, destroyed a few thousand dollars worth of merchandise in the room. The owners didn’t yet know how much merchandise in the store itself must also be destroyed.
The fire left the couple and their 15 employees out of work until sometime next week at the earliest.
“Basically, we’re waiting for a state health inspector from the agriculture department to come in and tell us when we can open again, but they don’t work on Saturday or Sunday, nor do they answer the telephone, and there’s no emergency number,” Gary Collins said.
“For a food establishment to reopen, it must be inspected, and they have to say what we can sell and what must be destroyed, so I guess we’ve got to wait until 9 o’clock Monday morning to get anybody to inspect the store.”
For a store that is open from 4 a.m. to 10 p.m. seven days a week and averages $4,000 a day in sales — $5,000 to $6,000 on Saturdays — the fire was particularly hard news to bear.
“It hasn’t been two weeks since we were robbed at gunpoint, and now the furnace caught fire and destroyed our stockroom,” Gary Collins said. The March 28 incident netted a robber about $200 in cash. The suspect has yet to be caught.
“We’re fortunate that most of the perishable products were in airtight freezers, so we’re primarily looking at supplies like paper bags, pizza boxes, Styrofoam cups and food containers, and sodas in the stockroom that will have to be destroyed,” Gary Collins said.
He estimated that loss at about $3,000.
Collins said that soon after midnight, he was awakened by smoke detectors going off.
“The smoke was so thick I couldn’t see, but I went to put my hand on the door to the furnace room, and it was so hot I couldn’t even touch it,” he said.
He said Mexico and Rumford firefighters and Mexico police arrived in less than five minutes.
He credited both that fast response and firefighters for refraining from using water until they got into the stockroom, where they had to root the fire out of flooring.
“They did a fantastic job getting the fire out, and then they used a vacuum and got all the water out, which I thought was phenomenal,” Collins said. “I can’t say enough about the Mexico Fire Department.”
All day Saturday, the couple turned away would-be customers, while employees helped clean the store and exhaust fans aired out the building.
“Several community people also stopped by and asked if they could help, and we really appreciate that. It really means a lot to us,” Gary Collins said.
Until they can safely return to their apartment, which sustained smoke damage — along with all their clothing — the couple are staying with Renee’s parents, Nick and Bernice DiConzo of Rumford.