WATERVILLE — At least two adults and three children were displaced after fire heavily damaged their Crawford Street duplex Tuesday afternoon in the Waterville Housing Authority complex.

Wilbur Hawes, 33, of 16 Crawford St., said he had just placed grease in a big pot on the stove to make French fries and went into the living room when all of a sudden smoke filled the duplex and then he saw fire. He said he ran upstairs to get his daughter, Jazmyne, 8.

“I got her and we took a tumble down the stairs,” Hawes said. “I’m just glad I got my daughter out, that’s all.”

Hawes, who said he recently was diagnosed with Lyme disease, said he did not think his snake, lizard and two cats, Taki and Sophie, who are black and white, respectively, survived the fire.

Hawes stood in the rain in front of his home wearing a U.S. Army jacket a neighbor had loaned him as firefighters worked to put the fire out.

As firefighters battled a blaze in the attic of the building, Waterville fire Chief Shawn Esler said the fire was reported at 4:11 p.m. By just after 5 p.m., a cause had not yet been determined, according to Esler. He said the first floor was heavily damaged by fire and the second floor and attic received moderate smoke damage. He said he did not think many belongings were salvageable on the first floor.

“Originally, when we got here, smoke was showing from both ends of the building, and it appeared there was fire on the first floor and extending into the attic,” he said. “We immediately put out a second alarm which calls five communities, and between the five communities, in the first 10 minutes of the fire, we had less than eight people on the fire. In today’s world of fire service, we are struggling to get adequate personnel to our fires in a timely manner.”

Esler said call firefighters work during the day, when most fire and emergency medical calls come in.

“The call force is fantastic — we have about 30 call firefighters,” he said. “Unfortunately, they also all have jobs.”

Many firefighters eventually arrived at the scene from Waterville, Winslow, Fairfield, Oakland and Skowhegan, and Albion firefighters covered stations, according to Esler.

“The (Waterville) Police Department is fantastic,” he said. “They had the whole road shut off prior to our arrival and assisted me with crowd control.”

A neighbor said a woman and her two young children live at 14 Crawford St., next door to Hawes in the same building.

Diane Townsend, executive director of the Waterville Housing Authority, was at the scene. Townsend said the displaced families will be cared for.

“We’ll be repairing or replacing the building — whatever is deemed needed — and help the tenants as much as we can,” Townsend said. “They have safe places for tonight.”

Danielle Porter, 36, of Waterville, said she was visiting a friend across the street from Hawes’ duplex when her daughter came running in from outside.

“She said, ‘Mama, there’s a fire,'” Porter recalled. “We went outside and saw smoke coming out of the building. A man came out with his daughter and I asked if he called 911 and he said no, he didn’t have a phone, so I called 911. He said it was a grease fire.”

As firefighters worked at the scene, groups of children and adults gathered in front of duplexes in the complex and stood in the rain to observe the goings-on. Children also watched from open windows, wide-eyed.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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