AUGUSTA — Three families are homeless after fire destroyed an apartment building on Mount Vernon Avenue Monday afternoon.

The fire, which was reported about 3 p.m., prompted officials to shut down the busy street for about three and a half hours as more than two dozen firefighters from Augusta, Winthrop, Chelsea, Togus, and Gardiner battled the blaze. None of the six people living in building was injured, though one pet reportedly died in the fire.

Augusta Fire Lt. Brian Chamberlin said when firefighters arrived at the 94 Mount Vernon Ave. building, heavy fire and smoke was pouring from the front of the two-and-a-half story home. Firefighters were able to bring the fire under control after about an hour and two investigators with the Office of the State Fire Marshal, including Sgt. Ken Grimes, were at the scene investigating the cause.

Dozens of neighbors watched the fire from sidewalks and driveways of nearby homes.

Mike Chase, a former firefighter in Randolph and Dresden who lives nearby, said he and his wife saw the fire even before crews arrived.

“I get up here and it was just a’roarin,” Chase said, adding the front side of the porch roof collapsed shortly after he arrived.

Chase said he saw people trying to get back into the building, possibly to rescue pets.

One tenant of 94 Mount Vernon Ave., William Hippler, said he found out about the fire from his upstairs neighbor.

“The lady on the second floor come running down, asked me for a fire extinguisher. I couldn’t get it off the wall, so I ripped it off the wall as soon as I got around the corner to get in her place — you couldn’t even get in it,” Hippler said.

Hippler said he didn’t know her name, but neighbors and onlookers said that woman is Fay Pinkham, who lived in an apartment in the building with her two children.

Hippler, 59, who lived on the bottom floor with Judith Catlin, moved in late last summer and called it a quiet building. And other than the clothes that he and Catlin were wearing, her walker and their pet birds, they have lost everything they own, he said, including his grandmother’s wringer washing machine. “I was going to do laundry tonight,” he said.

Two ladder trucks, one from Augusta and one from Winthrop, were used at the scene, while foresters responded as well because Bond Brook flows just past at the rear of the property.

Just after an hour following the fire being reported, crews sprayed water at both sides of the metal-roofed, tan building. Smoke billowed from the upper floors, sometimes obscuring the burning structure.

Hippler and Catlin were to be housed overnight at a local motel by the American Red Cross, whose disaster action team arrived at the scene of the fire shortly before 5 p.m., even as smoke was still drifting out of the upper floor. In all, the Red Cross identified six tenants who were displaced.

The three-family building, built in 1930, is owned by Tomberlin Construction Inc., according to records at the city Assessor’s Office. That company owns several properties on the same street, including 114 Mount Vernon Ave., across the street from the building that was on fire.

Tomberlin Construction is based at 51 Susan Lane in West Gardiner. A barn belonging to George Tomberlin burned down there in late November 2016. Tomberlin could not be reached for comment Monday.

While the fire was contained to 94 Mount Vernon Ave., some of the vinyl siding on 90 Mount Vennon Ave. was damaged by flames. Chamberlin said the fire didn’t get into that building and the residents of its six units were able to return to their homes Monday.

One neighbor, who declined to give his name, said he was in his apartment on the basement level of 90 Mount Vernon Ave., next door, when fire broke out. He saw flames shooting out a window of the burning building and estimated they came within feet of his apartment. He, his fiancée and their dogs left the building.

Terry Berry of Gardiner, who owns 90 Mount Vernon Ave., said he was notified of the fire by one of his tenants, and all of them were able to evacuate the apartments.

Lt. Christopher Massey of the Augusta Police Department announced the closure of Mount Vernon Avenue in a news release Monday afternoon, asking motorists to seek alternative routes. The road was reopened to traffic by about 6:30 p.m.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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