The first time Elizabeth Rhodes spoke with her eventual husband, Steven Rhodes, was in the late 1970s at her uncle’s house in Rockland, after another relative had died. Steven’s family also came to the gathering, and as he would later tell her, “When I walked through that door, I knew I was going to marry you.”

The last time Elizabeth spoke with Steven was early Monday morning. A fire had started in the basement of their one-story home on Cattle Pound Road in Washington and rapidly spread upstairs. Both Steven and Elizabeth managed to escape the home as it was flooded by smoke and flames.

But when Elizabeth told Steven that their 25-year-old son, Isaac, who had Down syndrome, was still inside, she said on Tuesday afternoon, “He did not hesitate. He went right in, but the smoke was too thick. I think they both probably became overcome by the smoke.”

Both men died in the fire. Steven, 53, was a devout Christian who coached youth basketball and sometimes preached at his church. Isaac was a nature lover whose bed was filled with stuffed animals.

Elizabeth, 56, offered a harrowing account of their final moments, even as she was recovering Tuesday afternoon from her own injuries — smoke inhalation and burns — at Maine Medical Center in Portland.

Investigators from the state fire marshal’s office have not yet announced whether they’ve identified a cause of the fire, and the state medical examiner has not released the causes of Isaac’s and Steven’s deaths.

Neighbors discovered the fire about 5:45 a.m. When firefighters arrived, they found heavy flames and smoke coming out of the home, according to a Monday news release from the state fire marshal’s office.

Knox County sheriff’s deputies and firefighters pulled the younger man from the house, but were not able to resuscitate him. Steven Rhodes’ body was recovered later in the rubble of the home.

Elizabeth said she thought the fire might have come from a wood stove in their basement, then spread to nearby piles of wood and paper before eventually moving into the main part of their home. Steven initially tried to extinguish the fire and Elizabeth brought him a pitcher of water, she said.

After calling relatives to let them know about the fire, Elizabeth tried to wake Isaac and convince him to leave the home, but left because she needed fresh air and her hair was burning, she said.

That’s when she saw Steven outside their home and told him their son was still inside.

Those who knew Steven were not surprised that he would have rushed into a burning home for his son, according to Amanda Colburn, who attends the same church as the Rhodes family, South Liberty Baptist Church.

“Everybody that knew Steve just loved him,” Colburn said. “As news was coming out and people realized he went back in the house for Isaac, it was not a surprise. We would all expect that from him.”

Both Steven and Isaac attended multiple services each week at the church, Colburn said, and Steven often would drive to Camden to pick up the children of his daughter Rebekah Lord, to take them with him.

“And Isaac was here for everything,” Colburn said. “He was always with his dad, always smiling. He was just happy to be here. We have a lot of small children, and he loved all the kids. He would call the boys his ‘buddies.'”

Isaac graduated from Medomak Valley High School in Waldoboro and participated in day programs offered by Mobius Incorporated, a nonprofit organization in Damariscotta that helps people with disabilities.

According to his sister Rachel Batlis, his favorite activities included singing in the choir, visiting Coastal Maine Botanical Gardens in Boothbay and playing with the family dog, King, a mixed-breed with traces of husky and Chesapeake water dog.

On Monday, Steven’s father, Lincoln Rhodes, said the dog was safe at his home.

The house was destroyed, and family members now are trying to raise money for both men’s funerals and for the living expenses Elizabeth will face when she leaves the hospital this week.

To that end, Batlis has started an online fundraiser on the website YouCaring.

“She did lose everything,” said Batlis, who was at her mother’s side Tuesday.

The family’s home was insured, Batlis added.

Steven was born in England while Lincoln was serving in the Air Force. He grew up in Washington and also attended Medomak Valley High School. He worked in the sales division of Storer Lumber in Waldoboro and used to work at Bath Iron Works.

He was devoted to his children and grandchildren, according to Batlis.

“My dad was always doing stuff with kids,” she said. “He’d do anything for anybody and not ask anything in return.”

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

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Twitter: @ceichacker