JAY — Three families escaped a burning three-story apartment building at 24 Jewell St. on Thursday morning.

Heavy black smoke was showing from the back of the building when firefighters arrived, Mike Booker, Jay assistant fire chief, said. The call came in at 9:55 a.m.

Fire was coming out a second-story window in the back of the building, he said. Soon after, heavy smoke started pouring from windows in the front of the building.

“We are not sure yet what happened,” Booker said as he watched fire crews work.

State fire investigators have been called in.

About 40 firefighters from Jay, Livermore, Livermore Falls, Wilton and Farmington battled the stubborn blaze, which appears to have started on the second floor. Two ladder trucks from Jay and Livermore Falls were initially on the scene; Winthrop Fire Department arrived later with an aerial truck.

Steve-Lynn Van Blarcom had been sleeping in her apartment on the third floor. “I don’t know what woke me up,” she said.

She looked around and saw that the apartment had a little smoke in it, she said.

“I opened my door and people on the second floor said to get out,” Van Blarcom said. She and her boyfriend were able to get her dog, Chloe, out, but their cat escaped back into the building. The cat was still unaccounted for midday. Van Blarcom’s three children were at school.

Rose Allen, a tenant on the first floor, didn’t know anything was going on until a second-floor neighbor told her to get out.

“We called 911,” she said.

Her boyfriend, David Nadeau, and she were able to get out of the house safely. Her 4-year-old daughter was at school. They were able to get one dog and cat out, but couldn’t get to another one, Allen said.

Second-floor tenant Shanon Zimmerman said she wasn’t at home when the fire started. Her boyfriend, Wesley Jackson, and 2-year-old son got out safely. Her 6-year-old was at school. Zimmerman said her boyfriend said it started at the circuit breaker.

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