Two people were killed and others were displaced early Tuesday morning by an apartment house fire in Palmyra, authorities said.

The fire — the cause of which the state fire marshal’s office was skeptical would ever be discovered — engulfed the apartment building almost instantly. Many of the tenants had to escape through windows out into the snow-covered yard during the wee hours of the morning.

Sgt. Ken Grimes, of the fire marshal’s office, said the investigation was ongoing, and investigators still were gathering information about the two victims found in the building’s rubble, who have not been identified. He said the victims — a man and a woman — were the only residents who had not been accounted for when officials began investigating and their bodies would be taken to the state medical examiner’s office in Augusta.

Josh Lombard, who lived in the building on 81 Square Road with his family on the bottom floor, said Tuesday he woke up when the power went out. He said he leaves a light on at night for his children.

He said at that point he heard what sounded like dripping water. Shortly thereafter, he realized it was the sound of fire crackling.

“If we slept for five more minutes, we’d all be dead now,” he said outside the destroyed home.

Firefighters on Tuesday morning were at the fire scene near the Canaan town line, where most residents of the building escaped uninjured, according to a news release from Steve McCausland, spokesman for the state Department of Public Safety. All told, he said, 11 people were living in the house.

The fire was reported about 3 a.m. and the building was engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived, he said.

Some tenants Tuesday morning said they had to jump from windows to escape the blaze.

Jordan Ballard, who had to escape through a window, said he awoke to the smell of smoke. With the power out, he said, he stumbled about in the dark and went to his door. When he opened the door, all he saw was smoke and flames. He said he climbed out his window, and Lombard helped him down. They then went around waking up other tenants, including the landlord, who lived there also, alerting them about the fire.

“The house was fully engulfed in 10 minutes, if that,” Ballard said, an observation echoed by Lombard.

Lombard has a 4-month-old baby and a set of 6-year-old twins.

“I was lucky to get the kids out,” Lombard said.

He said Zach Martin, who also lived in the building, said he woke up around 3 a.m. and noticed smoke but initially didn’t think much of it. Then he heard people outside the building shouting about the fire. At that point, he woke up his girlfriend, who went to open the door. Martin said all they saw were “clouds of smoke.” He said he didn’t see any flames until they were already out of the building.

“We went out the window,” Martin said.

After they were outside, Martin said he helped wake other tenants up and escape. The whole garage was in flames at that point, he said.

Lombard said he knew of the victims, but did not know them personally.

On Tuesday afternoon, McCausland said authorities still were working to identify the victims positively. He said they had not been able to reach any relatives of the people they suspect are the victims, so the names still were being withheld. He said investigators think the victims were a couple who were living in one of the two studio apartments above the garage, and it appeared the fire started in one of the studios.

“The fire spread quickly to the adjoining house,” McCausland said.

McCausland said some residents reported hearing smoke alarms going off, while some did not.

Grimes said they were “not hopeful a cause will be determined” because of the size and scale of the fire. McCausland also said the fire’s cause would be difficult to determine because of the extent of the damage. Grimes said the victims were found in the section of the rubble that had been over the garage. The house was knocked down later Tuesday morning by an exacavtor.

Tenants said the fire began in the garage. Lombard said there was a wood stove in the garage, which he thought probably caused the fire.

Palmyra Selectman Mike Cray was at the scene Tuesday morning, providing support to those displaced. He said for assistance, they could either call the Town Office at 938-4871 or call him personally at 341-1255.

“I just got here,” he said at the scene, as the temperature was a little over 10 degrees. “It’s crazy.”

Colin Ellis — 861-9253

[email protected]

Twitter: @colinoellis

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