AUGUSTA — Firefighters from around the region responded to an apartment house fire around 4 p.m. Wednesday as the resident of the apartment where the fire broke out looked on.

Christopher Norton, who lives on second floor at 79 Willow St., said he was sleeping when his smoke alarm woke him up and he saw the door to his back deck engulfed in flames.

Norton said he tried dousing the fire and keeping it from spreading because his deck is over the bedroom of his downstairs neighbor.

Standing barefoot at the corner of Willow and Bangor streets, Norton said only he and his downstairs neighbor were home, and both were able to get out safely.

Firefighters flanked the building, using a ladder truck parked in a driveway on Myrtle Street and one on Willow Street to spray the front and back of the house with a high volume of water.

Crews from Augusta, Vassalboro, Chelsea, Togus, Gardiner and Winthrop responded.

Augusta Fire Battalion Chief Jason Farris said when fire crews first arrived, the rear of the building, the porch and the exterior were on fire; the attic was fully engulfed in flames. The roof of a neighboring building was on fire and a third building was at risk.

But within about 10 minutes, the fire was contained.

Farris said the stairwell into the attic of 79 Willow St. had been turned into a closet, so to gain access to the attic, Farris said firefighters had to cut a hole in the ceiling to gain access to the third level.

The houses in the neighborhood off Bangor Street on the east side of Augusta near the Kennebec River, are mostly wood frame homes more than a century old and some are spaced less than a dozen feet apart.

While he’s not sure what caused the fire, Norton, visibly shaken and hoarse, said a friend who had stopped by to play video games had been smoking and may not have put his cigarette out before coming inside. Because Norton had fallen asleep, he said his friend had left. Norton said he has an ashtray outside for his friends to use, but sometimes they stub their cigarettes out in a potted plant instead, which he has told them not to do.

“I grabbed a pitcher of water and was dumping it … I ended up smashing one of the windows because the cold water hit the hot and it shattered,” he said. “After that, I was like — I can’t, I can’t, and I grabbed my phone and I was calling 911, running downstairs and I was trying to breathe. It got smoky quick.”

Norton said it appeared the fire started outside the house and was trying to get in. He said he had learned growing up that you want to stop the path of the fire with water.

He said he had planned to buy a fire extinguisher, but he didn’t have enough money for it in May. He said he does not have renter’s insurance. Norton said he wasn’t concerned about his own possessions; the loss of his son’s things upset him the most. He said he has been trying to get custody of him.

“This doesn’t help,” he said. “I just want to go in and see how bad it is.”

Norton made arrangements to stay with friends Wednesday night. And although his had burned his hands, he refused treatment.

The American Red Cross in a news release issued Wednesday night said it was working with one of the residents to provide assistance.

Farris said no firefighters were injured.

Farris said it’s important for people call 911 immediately and close doors to halt the spread of fires.

“Closing a door can slow a fire down,” he said; unchecked, a fire can double in size every 20 seconds. Property records on file with the city of Augusta show the two-story house with and attic was built in 1909, and it’s owned by Northeast Property Group LLC, with an Augusta post office box as an address.

Initially, the Augusta Police Department blocked access to Willow Street at Cony Street and at Bangor Street, but the Cony Street end was opened up before 5 p.m.

Firefighters remained on scene for more than two hours.

The state fire marshal’s office was called in to investigate.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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