UPDATE: Rockland apartment fire attributed to ‘smoking materials’
ROCKLAND — The cause of a fire that dislocated seven people in an apartment complex in Rockland has been ruled accidental.
Rockland Firefighters and the State Fire Marshal’s Office ended their investigation Wednesday.
“After speaking with witnesses, investigating the fire scene, and reconstructing the areas involved, it has been determined that this fire was accidental and caused by smoking materials,” Rockland Fire Chief Chris Whytock said in a press release Wednesday. “Both offices have closed their investigations and the building has been turned back over to the property owners.”
At 6:30 p.m., Monday, Feb. 12, heavy flames were reportedly coming from an upstairs window of a two-story apartment in a subdivision called Fieldcrest Apartments, 175 Rankin Street, apartment 29. The call to dispatch prompted an automatic summons for the Rockland Fire Department as well as all mutual aid from Camden, Rockport, South Thomaston and Thomaston fire departments, and North East Mobile Health.
There were two people in the primary residence and five people in the adjacent units, according to Chief Whytock’s report. All were able to exit safely, and no tenant or responder sustained injuries due to the fire.
In the downstairs of an adjacent unit, Gabrielle Dennison happened to be sitting with her friend and her 4-year-old son, Maddox. First they started sniffing the air at the sudden realization of a smokey odor. Then they heard the crackling.
“I told my friend to take my son and run while I grabbed my social security card,” Dennison said while standing next to the rear of the fire chief’s car where Maddox sat, without a shirt, still clutching the snack wrapper he’d been holding earlier.
“My Mother Bear instincts took over, knocking on doors, telling everyone to get out,” she said. “And then I had an emotional breakdown 10 minutes later.”
Many of the other tenants wanted to take moments of their own, to grab the items they believed most important, according to Dennison. But Dennison urged them out the door anyway.
The tenant at the other side of the four-apartment complex only had time to grab her purse. Her animals remained inside, as well as the only two pictures of her children, who are now in their late teens. The woman had already endured a fire in her past, losing everything. As this evening’s fire burned nearby, she stood in the parking lot, incapable of doing anything, and in fear of losing everything again.
Car 1 arrived on scene at 6:32 p.m. to the sight of heavy smoke coming from the second floor window of apartment 29.
“The duty crew (C-Shift) arrived with five personnel and immediately placed a handline into operation and began fire attack,” Whytock said in his report. “Two additional handlines were put into place once more help arrived from our off duty and mutual aid companies. The fire was extinguished with about 750 gallons of water and was contained to the apartment of origin.
Because the adjacent apartments had minimal smoke and water damage, the woman was eventually allowed to re-enter her unit briefly, with a firefighter escort, so she could grab some clothing. Dennison and her son were given a similar opportunity to enter their apartment. At the request of responders, CMP had disconnected the power to the apartments and most of the tenants were staying with friends or family for the night.
Firefighters then brought police officers into the charred fire scene.
Dennison said that this is the first big fire she’s known of in the apartment complex. A few years ago there was a scare, but that turned out to be a hamburger that prompted a small grease fire.
The City of Rockland is very fortunate to have quality neighboring fire departments within our mutual aid area, Chief Whytock said in his report. We all work effectively as a team and we couldn’t ask for better support. Given the time this fire occurred, the situation could have been much worse had it been later in the evening when people were asleep.
With this in mind, please make sure your smoke detectors are functioning properly and you know your escape routes in case of an emergency.
Rockland Tower 3 Rockport Engine 23
Rockland Squad 3 Rockport Engine 22
Rockland Engine 1 Thomaston FD
Rockland Engine 2 Camden Ladder 1 for RIT
Rockland Rescue 1 and 2
South Thomaston FD
North East Mobile Health Rockland Car 1
An estimated 35 personnel responded to the scene.
This story will be updated as details become available.
A fire on Rankin Street in Rockland, between Old County Road and Route 1, is drawing firefighters from three towns to help Rockland extinguish the flames.