OXFORD — One woman was killed and another hospitalized after fire broke out early Saturday at an apartment building for the elderly in Oxford.

More than a dozen others were treated at the scene for smoke inhalation, said Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety. Many tenants had to climb down – or be carried down – ladders to escape the smoke-filled building after firefighters broke out windows to reach them.

Late Saturday afternoon, McCausland identified the woman killed in the fire as Theresa Heino, 85. Virginia Brown, 65, who suffered smoke inhalation, was listed in stable condition Saturday night at Stephens Memorial Hospital in Norway.

The fire started about 2 a.m. in a common area of the Oxford Meadow Apartments at 1633 Main St., which is Route 26, home to about 40 older residents, many of them low-income with disabilities and some in wheelchairs.

Most were rescued by firefighters and other first responders after thick black smoke, heat and gases quickly spread throughout the building.

“You couldn’t see your hands in front of your face,” said Oxford Fire Chief Wayne Jones.


One of the rescued tenants was Barbara Cash, 88, who has lived in the apartment building for four years and has a dog, Lili May.

“She’s petrified by smoke,” Cash said of her dog, a Yorkshire, poodle and Shih Tzu mix. Cash said she was awake at the time the fire broke out because Lili May was acting skittish.

“I think she was trying to tell me” something was wrong, Cash said.

When an alarm sounded, Cash said, she went into the hall of the U-shaped, two-story building. She said her throat got raspy from the thick smoke in the hallway and she was moving toward the elevator when another tenant told her she shouldn’t take the elevator in a fire. The two headed toward a stairwell in the opposite direction, Cash said, but returned to their apartments when they felt the inside of the door to the stairway and it was hot.

Cash said a firefighter was inside by that time and he broke out the window in her unit and called for a ladder. He helped her climb down a few steps and then fire crews used a bucket truck to get her down the rest of the way.

After they were evacuated from their apartments, Cash and others were taken to Oxford Hills Comprehensive High School in South Paris, where some were picked up by relatives. They were later moved to the Inn Town Motel in Norway, where the American Red Cross of Maine is helping them. A handful were expected to stay in the motel for the night, said Dave Sheehan, the regional disaster program manager for the agency.


Justin Burkhardt, communications director for the Red Cross, said residents left their apartments with just the clothes on their backs.

“They had two minutes to get out,” he said.

Sheehan said a major concern for most tenants was replacing medication they had left in the apartments. He said EMTs with the Red Cross were getting medication information from the residents and making arrangements with local pharmacies to replace their prescriptions.

Joyce Gannon, 87, was told that her prescriptions would be available at a drugstore in Bridgton, where she was going to stay with her son and daughter-in-law. She said she hasn’t been told when she might be able to return to her apartment.

Gannon said she felt dizzy and tired Saturday afternoon at the motel, where her daughter-in-law picked her up. She said she was most concerned about replacing her medications for diabetes and high blood pressure.



Jones, the fire chief, said it was the large response from area fire departments, ambulance services and other emergency personnel that prevented the fire from becoming a worse tragedy.

Jones said an Oxford firetruck with two firefighters was the first to arrive on the scene and was soon joined by another four Oxford firefighters, who concentrated on extinguishing the fire.

“Two things were going on simultaneously,” he said. “The best thing we can do is eliminate the fire. We need to put out the fire and at the same time do all the rescues. It was a very small crew on those initial stages. We were doing multiple tasks with a very small crew.”

More help from surrounding departments then began to arrive from Oxford, Paris, Norway, Mechanic Falls, Otisfield, Poland, Gray, New Gloucester, Woodstock and Greenwood. Maine State Police, Oxford police and Oxford County sheriff’s deputies also helped carry people to safety.

“Folks did just an amazing job,” Jones said.

Rescuers had to rouse some residents from their beds while other residents stood by their windows waiting to be helped out, Jones said. He said residents had been trained to stay in their apartments and not wander into hallways.


Gannon said she was awakened by the faint beeping of a fire alarm. She, too, went out in the smoky hallway and found the door to the stairs too hot, so she returned to her apartment, where firefighters called her to the window to climb down a ladder.

“I would say I went down the ladder, but really, they pushed me,” she said. “I felt like I was eloping with three firemen and a lady fireman. Thank God for the Red Cross and thank God for the firemen and women.”

Jones said residents were carried out of their apartments via ladders from the ground, from aerial ladders and through windows.

“They had walkers and some had power chairs,” he said.

Jones said the smoke triggered the building’s smoke alarms. The building, which was built in the early 1980s, was not required to be equipped with water sprinklers, and McCausland said it did not have any.

Resident Frantie Giasson, 87, said she was awakened early Saturday by her dog, Cricket, a 4-year-old Shih Tzu. Giasson, who moved to her second-floor apartment at the complex this month, said she smelled smoke.


“I am a little shook up,” said Giasson, who uses a walker following hip surgery this month.

Giasson said she went out into the hall to try the fire door, which is next to her door, but – like the other residents – found it was too hot to touch. She went back inside to stand by her window and wait for help. A man on a ladder appeared.

“He carried me and my dog out,” said Giasson, a former Waterford resident who is going to stay with her daughter in Raymond.

Giasson, who lost her walker and all her medications in the fire, said she is devastated that someone died in the fire. She said she wants to move back to her apartment, where she had just finished hanging up all her photographs.

“It was quite an episode,” she said.



By midafternoon Saturday, a half-dozen windows that had been knocked out by rescuers were boarded over, but otherwise there were no exterior signs of damage.

The building is managed by Speedway Inc. Madison Avenue Associates, which is owned by Robert P. Bahre, former owner of the Oxford Plains Speedway and the New Hampshire Motor Speedway and a major investor in the Oxford Casino, which was sold to Churchill Downs for $160 million in 2013. The casino and speedway are a short drive away on Route 26.

The company operates more than a dozen apartment complexes for elderly and disabled people around the state. Red Cross officials said that although the apartments are for the elderly, it’s not an assisted living facility with around-the-clock care for residents.

The company issued a statement Saturday afternoon saying the Bahre family and employees of Speedway Inc. wanted to express their sympathy to the family of the resident who was killed and all those who were displaced. They also thanked those who helped out during the fire and its aftermath.

“We are praying for the residents that were hospitalized,” the statement said.

Company employees at the scene Saturday afternoon would not characterize the interior damage to the building and wouldn’t allow a reporter in to see the extent of the damage. The front door was open to air out the building, but no damage was immediately apparent.


Investigators from the State Fire Marshal’s Office are trying to pinpoint the cause of the fire and will call in an electrical inspector Monday, McCausland said. An inspector who had looked over the damage Saturday morning was gone by the afternoon, management company employees said.

The building was last inspected in March 2009, according to town tax records. It was built in 1984, and is listed in “average” condition. It’s assessed at $1.89 million, and is taxed at $23,162.

Jones said residents would be displaced for days.

“We are working with the Salvation Army and Goodwill to get them clothing,” said Burkhardt, the Red Cross spokesman.

Sheehan said some would get a small stipend to get through the next few days. He said local residents have offered free meals to both the residents and Red Cross workers.


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