February 17, 2013

Fire destroys apartment building in Unity on Saturday

Four homeless following blaze; no injuries reported

By Rachel Ohm rohm@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

UNITY -- Four women are homeless after a fire Saturday morning destroyed the Main Street apartment building where they lived.

click image to enlarge

Unity Fire Chief Dennis Turner puts a hand on building owner Ralph Nason Sr. as fire consumes his seven-apartment building on Main Street in Unity on Saturday. At right is Ralph Nason Jr., who said the fire may have started near a boiler and the building is insured. There were no reported injuries.

Staff photo by David Leaming

click image to enlarge

Firefighters attack flames at the rear storage area of an apartment building that was destroyed by fire on Main Street in Unity on Saturday morning. The building is owned by Ralph Nason. Sr.

Staff photo by David Leaming

The building, near the intersection of Depot Street, contained seven apartments, but only two were occupied. Beverly Mears, 75, lived in an apartment in the back of the building with her sister Shirley King, 73. Mears said she had just returned home Saturday morning from the post office when she smelled smoke.

"I had an inclination that it could be coming from the back of the building, so I opened the door and saw all the smoke coming over the roof. I just took my coat off, but I put it back on," she said.

Mears said she warned her sister, then called the Fire Department and their landlord on their house telephone. They weren't able to save any belongings, although Mears said she had her wallet, which was in her coat pocket.

Unity Fire Chief Dennis Turner said firefighters received the call around 10:40 a.m. and that they issued a countywide mutual-aid call, drawing 14 other departments. "It took all the engines, tankers and manpower in the county to fight this fire," he said.

The fire's cause was a furnace malfunction that originated in the back of the house, he said. No one was injured, but the building was a total loss, Turner said.

The sisters tried to rescue their two cats, Destiny and Dolly, but they were able to save only one. King went back into the burning building to get Destiny out, but the cat ran under a bed and then into another room. She said the cat was still missing at 1 p.m. Saturday.

The building's owners, Ralph and Nancy Nason, heard about the fire while they were at The Pit Stop, the nearby convenience store they own on School Street.

"The clerk at our store came in and said 'Your house is on fire,'" said Ralph Nason, 73. "When I went outside, I couldn't see down Main Street, the smoke was so thick."

Nason's son, Ralph Nason Jr., said the building was insured.

"I don't think you can ever have enough insurance if something like this happens," said the father as he watched flames spread from the back of the building, which was an office and storage space, to the three-story white farmhouse in the front.

A neighbor, Linwood Alexander, said his wife's uncle used to live in the house and that it was built in the late 1800s.

By 11 a.m., billowing black smoke had engulfed the neighborhood and could be seen from miles away. Traffic was blocked off throughout downtown Unity until about 6 p.m. Saturday.

Troy Reynolds, 39, was also in The Pit Stop when the fire was reported and went to the scene, where he learned that King had gone back into the building to retrieve one of the cats.

"I couldn't see her, but I heard her hollering to her cat," said Reynolds. He met King on the porch and led her away from the house.

"He said, 'You don't belong in there,' and I said, 'I'm sorry, I paid my rent,'" King said.

"I was just trying to help out," said Reynolds, adding that he didn't know King or her sister before the fire.

The building's other occupied apartment was the home of Cheryl and Rachel Martlock, a mother and daughter who had moved to the area recently from Maryland. Rachel Martlock is a student at Unity College, and her mother said she was here temporarily to help her daughter move into her new apartment, in the building that burned Saturday.

(Continued on page 2)

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