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

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.

Cheryl Martlock, 58, a course developer who works from home, said she was able to save her work laptop but nothing else. She said she had just taken their dog, 16-year-old Abbi, outside and was about to give her breakfast when someone knocked on their door and said the building was on fire. The Martlocks, Abbi and their pet lizard, Ushi, were able to get out safely.

At 6 p.m. firefighters from Unity and a few of other departments were still at the scene as snow began to fall on the demolished building.

During the day, firefighters responded from departments in Albion, Benton, Brooks, Dixmont, Detroit, Freedom, Liberty, Montville, Morrill, Pittsfield, Pittston, Thorndike, Troy, Unity and Winslow.

Turner said the building had been remodeled into efficiency apartments and contained many partitions and additions.

“There was no way of maneuvering the interior without coming out and going in separate entryways. That made things difficult,” he said. “It’s a complete, total loss. Nobody got anything out.”

On Saturday afternoon the four women, the dog, the cat and the lizard sat around the kitchen table of Darcy Milliard, who lives a few houses away on Main Street. Milliard made them tea while they wrote a list of the things they had lost. She offered them rooms to stay in and the women said they would be there at least temporarily.

King and Mears said they had planned to move next month and most of their belongings were in boxes. They were just getting ready to write their last rent check, for March.

“They say everything happens for a reason, but I just can’t figure out why this would happen,” King said.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368
[email protected]

 

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