RUMFORD — Blistering paint on a hot wall in a Falmouth Street apartment led firefighters to find a hole in a chimney on the first floor Wednesday morning.
Rumford and Mexico responded to the 911 call, Rumford fire Chief Bob Chase said, and opened up the wall to see a hole in the chimney.
"There was an oil-fired hot water heater on in the basement and with the hole in the chimney, it started to vent out into that wall space," Chase said. "That hole was unplugged and it started a small fire in panel board that was covering the hole."
Chase said it was a thimble hole that wasn't appropriately capped, so it allowed hot flue gases to vent into combustible material.
"It was a timely observation by the homeowner, because had it not been observed, it certainly could have been worse," he said. "They said they saw some blistering on paint and when they put their hand on it, it was hot to the touch."
After resolving the problem, firefighters using a thermal imaging camera checked for fire in the walls of adjacent apartments, but found none, he said.
Chase said he alerted Code Enforcement Officer Rick Kent to the building code violation. Kent arrived and condemned the chimney.
The building is owned by Ray Corp. of 571 Sabattus St., Lewiston. Chase said the owner's maintenance staff was notified and is working to remedy the issue.
Some pajama-clad tenants who left four apartments in the three-story structure stood in a parking lot across the street with other tenants evacuated from an adjoining apartment building.
"This has been going on for six months and nobody would come in and look at it," Tracey Robbins said of the hole in the chimney.
She lives on the first floor next door to the apartment where the fire was found. Robbins told Chase she's afraid to sleep in the building for fear of a fire.
"There's no maintenance here. This place will be the next one to burn down," she said.
When asked by Robbins why the fire in the wall didn't set off smoke detectors, Chase told her there wasn't any smoke in the apartment.
"You didn't have any visible smoke in the air of the apartment and that's what the smoke detector is supposed to sense," he said.
"It was just the heat," another tenant said, to which Chase acknowledged.
"When you get something like that, call 911 first, because if we come and it's nothing, that's fine," Chase said. "If you'd have waited, who knows (what would have happened)."
After talking with a building maintenance official, Chase said he was told the owner will have an electric hot water heater installed and no longer use the chimney.
After about an hour, tenants were allowed back in the apartment buildings.