ATHENS — Earle Shepardson was at work Tuesday morning at Key Appliance in Skowhegan when he got a phone call from his girlfriend, Michelle Bancroft, saying their South Main Street mobile home was on fire.

In a matter of minutes, the fire, which Shepardson said he thinks was caused by a wood stove around 10 a.m., spread through the house. Bancroft suffered burns on her hands.

The couple, who also have two daughters, ages 6 and 3, had just three payments left on the house before it was theirs, and they do not have insurance.

“If it was just me, I would sleep in my shed out back, but my little girls mean more to me than anything in the world,” said Shepardson, 43, as he surveyed the damage to the house at 193 South Main St. “They haven’t even seen the house yet.”

Bancroft was taken to Redington-Fairview General Hospital in Skowhegan for treatment and is expected to recover.

Bancroft was home alone when the fire started after dropping off the younger girl with a baby sitter, Shepardson said.

“She opened the wood stove and (the fire) flashed back at her,” he said. “I don’t know how it started, if it was a backdraft or something, but it spread quickly.”

The couple has lived in the mobile home for five years but bought the wood stove new this winter.

Brett Strout, first assistant fire chief in Athens, said the Fire Department was not sure how the fire started but that when firefighters arrived, they saw smoke coming out of the front of the house and flames coming from an addition in the back. The house was destroyed and will not be inhabitable.

Strout said the fire’s cause is not suspicious and that the Office of the State Fire Marshal will investigate.

Around 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, Shepardson stood outside the remains of the house holding two Mickey Mouse stuffed animals that the American Red Cross had brought for his daughters.

“Everything melted,” he said, talking about the damage. “The TV in the back bedroom melted, everything, the front doors of the refrigerator.”

Debbie Foss, whose daughter lives next door to Bancroft and Shepardson, was helping Shepardson try to salvage belongings from the burned-out house, though almost everything was damaged by smoke, she said.

“I hate seeing things like this,” Foss said. “I feel bad for the girls, having to come home to it.”

Shepardson said he wasn’t sure where the family will be staying, though Foss said they were welcome to stay with her, and the American Red Cross also has offered to help them.

“I don’t know yet all what we lost,” he said. “None of it has really sunk in yet.”

Firefighters from Athens, Cornville, Harmony, Madison and Skowhegan responded to the fire.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

Twitter: @rachel_ohm


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