JAY — A fire that destroyed a three-story apartment building at 24 Jewell St.  was started by a 2-year-old boy in a second-floor bedroom, State Fire Marshal investigator Edward Hastings IV said late Thursday afternoon.

No one was injured in the 9:55 a.m. blaze, but three families — a total of 12 people, six of them children — were left homeless. Some were home at the time but escaped unharmed. A couple of cats were unaccounted for by midday.

“It is a total loss,” Jay Assistant Fire Chief Mike Booker said of the building owned by Rose Grimanis of Farmington. It is insured, he said.

Forty firefighters from Jay, Livermore, Livermore Falls, Wilton, Farmington and Winthrop battled the blaze until early afternoon. Heavy black smoke was showing from the back of the building when they arrived, Booker said at the scene, and flames were coming out a second-story window there. Booker said he could hear smoke detectors going off when he arrived.

“We are not sure yet what happened,” Booker said as he watched fire crews  spray water on the building. Jay set its ladder truck up in the yard of the Schoolhouse Apartments complex next door so firefighters could cut a hole in the roof. A front-end loader cleared snow from the yard to make space.

Steve-Lynn Van Blarcom had been sleeping in her apartment on the third-floor when the fire broke out.

“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 and had their cat but it escaped back into the building. Van Blarcom’s three children were at school.

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

“We called 911,” she said.

She and her boyfriend, David Nadeau, 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 a 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.

Neighbor Kevin Timberlake said he realized something was going on when he heard a police car with sirens coming up the street.

“I thought someone was being chased,” he said. He soon saw smoke coming from the back of the apartment house.

“I couldn’t tell if it was somebody having a fire in the parking lot or the house was on fire,” Timberlake said.

The American Red Cross arrived to help the families with housing and other needs. NorthStar Emergency Medical Services personnel were checking on firefighters.

Wayne firefighters stood by at the Livermore Falls fire station. East Dixfield stood by at Jay and Wilton. Chesterville stood by at Farmington and Turner at Livermore.

Initially fire departments were lacking manpower because most were at their regular jobs, Booker said. “It’s hard during the day,” he said.

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