RUMFORD – Three people were left homeless on Saturday after a fire destroyed their South Rumford Road home and attached barn.

No one was injured in the blaze that killed two parakeets and possibly a cat at the home of Charles and Laura Riggs at 708 South Rumford Road. A neighbor said Laura’s mother, Marion Jones, was also living at the house.

Rumford fire Deputy Chief Richard Coulombe said the fire started in the barn, but as of Saturday night, didn’t yet have a cause. The home was insured, and the Office of the Maine State Fire Marshal was contacted.

About 60 firefighters from Andover, Dixfield, Mexico, Peru, Rumford, and Woodstock fought the fire, which continued for about six hours.

An excavator from Cross Excavation in Bethel arrived on scene by 3:30 p.m. and proceeded to tear the house apart, enabling firefighters to reach the blaze, smoke from which could be seen from miles away. Firefighters ran about 1,000 feet of hose from neighbor Maurice Roy’s pond to fight the blaze.

Coulombe said a double metal roof, one atop the other, and double walls prevented them from reaching the fire until the excavator arrived.

He said the fire started sometime before 10:19 a.m. Charles Riggs was in Auburn, and Laura had taken her elderly mother to a hairdresser’s in Rumford.

At some point, Jones slipped on ice on the sidewalk at the hairdresser’s and fell. She was taken by Med-Care Ambulance to Rumford Hospital, where she was listed in good condition early Saturday night, a nursing supervisor said.

Not only did responders have to contend with heavy fire, ice and freezing temperatures, but the blaze also touched off ammunition and black powder stored inside the house, Coulombe said.

The fire also dropped a live electrical wire across the road and Jeep. Tires on the Jeep exploded as did the gasoline tank, creating other hazards.

“The tires popped, the gas tank popped. There were so many thing popping, it was hard to distinguish whether it was bullets, tires or gas tanks,” Coulombe said.

All four tires on the Jeep exploded, feeding oxygen to flames that turned the car into a fireball, one firefighter said.

“We got everyone back in time before it blew,” he added.

Due to recent changes by selectmen, Rumford only had four firefighters at the station when they were sent to the fire.

Lt. Rob Dixon, Deputy Chief Richard Coulombe, Lt. Rob Dixon and firefighters Ed Carey and Butch Glover arrived with two trucks, but only two of them could use self-contained breathing gear.

Until mutual-aid crews could arrive in about 25 minutes, Dixon said both he and Glover tried in vain to contain the fire.

“With two people, we couldn’t be in five places at once,” Dixon said. “Then the fire got ahead of us to the second floor. It was in the walls and ceiling. We couldn’t get to it, so, much of the building burned. Then, we were waiting for it to fall down, but it wouldn’t.”

In addition to the Jeep, Coulombe said the couple also lost a boat with a new motor that was inside the barn, a generator and an air compressor.

“They lost everything. They have nothing left,” he said of the couple, who are in their 50s.

Coulombe said the American Red Cross was helping the couple, who were seeking a room at the Linnell Motel.


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