SCARBOROUGH — A fire at a Scarborough motel Tuesday displaced 12 guests and forced authorities to close Route 1 for about 20 minutes during the height of the evening rush hour.

Scarborough Fire Chief Michael Thurlow said his crews had to lay water lines across Route 1 because the hydrants were on the opposite side from the Itsa Good Motel. This forced Scarborough police to stop traffic on the major thoroughfare and reroute it through the Scarborough Downs racetrack property.

A family of four, including two young children, lived in the unit where the fire started. Their unit was destroyed and they lost everything, said Ellen Ellsworth, the motel’s owner.

Ellsworth identified the displaced couple as Alex Pagen and Monique Mills. They lived in the motel unit with two children, ages 18 months and 4 years. They were not at home when the fire broke out.

“They were excellent folks,” Ellsworth said. “They had been saving up enough money to move into their own apartment.”

John Lamb, a spokesman for the American Red Cross, said his organization will provide food, clothing and temporary shelter to 12 individuals displaced by the fire.

Ellsworth said the motel was not insured. She said it is unlikely that she will be able to rebuild given her lack of financial resources.

Thurlow said the cause of the fire, which was reported at 4:07 p.m., remains under investigation. He said the fire caused heavy smoke damage to the remaining seven units. Everyone escaped safely.

The motel, formerly known as the Oak Leaf Motel, is located on the southbound side of Route 1 between the entrance to Scarborough Downs and Tire Warehouse.

Most of the other motel residents said they rent units by the week.

“It’s inexpensive housing that I can afford,” said Bob Dinsmore, who has been renting a unit with his girlfriend, Sylvia Cox.

Cox had just returned from work and was getting ready to take a nap when she heard someone yelling outside her room. Cox grabbed photographs of her children, stuffed them in a tote bag and fled to safety.

Mike Danzinger said he had just got up from a nap when he heard Ellsworth’s son, Jamie Jutras, pounding on his door. Jutras, who helps his mother manage the motel, ran from unit to unit, pounding on doors and shouting, to make sure everyone got out safely, said Danzinger, who works at Pat’s Pizza in the Old Port.

Danzinger, who lives next to Pagen and Mills, said he could smell smoke but saw no flames as he fled his unit.

Another tenant, Adrian Wisher, had just left the motel to feed horses at Scarborough Downs racetrack. The entrance to the racetrack is just a few hundred feet away.

Wisher, who rented a room at the motel for the racing season — he lives in Delaware — is a horse trainer. When he spotted black smoke curling up from Route 1, he drove back to his room to find the motel on fire.

“I thought the smoke was coming from the tire place,” Wisher said, referring to the Tire Warehouse.

“I’m doing better than those guys (Pagen and Mills). They lost everything,” Wisher said.

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:dhoey@pressherald.com