January 17, 2013

Pet rabbit, precious memories saved from Augusta fire scene

No charges expected in 55 Sewall St. blaze on Thursday, started by improperly discarded cigarette, fire marshal's office investigator says

By Keith Edwards kedwards@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA — Robin Bailey heard something scurrying around.

click image to enlarge

An Augusta firefighter ducks beneath flames emerging from the third-floor deck of an apartment building that burned Thursday on Sewall Street.

Staff file photo by Andy Molloy


A spaghetti dinner is planned to benefit two of the families burned out of their apartments in a Jan. 10 fire at 55 Sewall St. in Augusta. The benefit, organized by coworkers of Jonna Child, is planned for 5 to 8 p.m. Friday, Feb. 1 at the Manchester Lions Club, off Route 17 in Manchester.

She was looking at the charred remains of the 55 Sewall St. apartment she and her 8-year-old daughter, Sami, called home, a day after a fire left 14 tenants of the building homeless.

The noise was Chubbs, Sami's pet rabbit, hopping around in his cage, which was surrounded by charred floor.

Bailey said she had asked firefighters about the rabbit the night of the Jan. 10 blaze at the six-unit building and they reported the rabbit wasn't moving, and probably was dead. Since her apartment sustained heavy damage from the fire — which authorities said was caused by improper disposal of smoking materials — the last thing Bailey expected to find the day after the fire was a hopping bunny.

"He scared the crap out of me," Bailey said. "Apparently a piece of Sheetrock fell from the ceiling onto his cage, and it had blocked him from the flames."

Chubbs was given a bath and a new name — Smokey. The family is staying at Bailey's parents' house in Augusta.

The rabbit was one of a handful of sentimental things that Bailey and Sami, a Lincoln Elementary School student, were able to salvage from the fire, including Sami's baby keepsake box, her stuffed baby jaguar, Bailey's Air Force medals and a family Bible.

Just about everything else in their third-floor apartment, from clothing to beds, was destroyed.

"We lost everything other than about five sentimental things — clothes, bedding, everything," Bailey said Tuesday. "It's a starting-over process, starting from square one. We're looking for apartments close to Lincoln School so I don't have to disrupt Sami's schooling."

The apartment is close enough, and the fire was big enough, for Sami to see the fire from her Lincoln classroom last week.


'Still good in the world'

The Lincoln Elementary School community is close enough to have responded with donations to help the burned-out families recover.

Lincoln has three students, from three different families, who lost their homes in the fire — two kindergartners and a third-grader, according to Rick Ray, a school guidance counselor who is collecting money to give to the three families to help them recover.

Ray said the donations starting coming in Friday, the day after the fire, even before anyone at the school actively started seeking assistance for the families.

"By 3 o'clock Friday, unsolicited, people had already brought in more than $850," Ray said. "One grandfather asked how many families were impacted. We said three, and he handed us three $100 bills. So it's nice to see there is still good in the world. People still, despite what we all hear, like to help others."

The donations included three $5 gift cards to Barnes and Noble contributed by a second-grader from her own money, because the girl was concerned the families had lost all their books, Ray said. A mother of a Lincoln student also went around to many area businesses, asking them to donate gift cards for the families.

As of Tuesday, Ray said $1,317 in cash, $495 worth of gift cards, and toys and clothes had been collected at Lincoln School.

"It's completely overwhelming, how much people are helping. I didn't expect anything like that," said Jessy Carr, who lived on a first-floor apartment at 55 Sewall St. with her boyfriend, Paul Couture, and children Owen, a 6-year-old who attends Lincoln, and 4-year-old Cody, who attends pre-kindergarten at Gilbert Elementary School.

"The community has been incredible in this whole thing, helping us out, which makes it a lot easier," she said.

Carr said they were able to salvage most of the children's toys from the fire, but most of the rest of their possessions couldn't be saved.

(Continued on page 2)

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