SOUTH CHINA — A 50-year-old woman escaped injury Tuesday morning when both her car and the camper she was staying in at The Cabins at Pellerin Campground were destroyed by fire.

Laura Ellis, of Bangor, was alone in the camper on Beach Lane, next to China Lake, when the fire started shortly after 8 a.m.

Ellis said she started her 2002 Dodge Neon to warm it up and returned to the camper. When she came back out, the car was on fire, she said. Frantic and worried the fire would spread to nearby propane tanks, she first sprayed the car with a fire extinguisher, but that did not work, so she tried water, which made the fire worse, she said. The fire then reached the camper, she said.

She called 911 at 8:22 a.m. and was connected with Waterville Communications Center dispatcher Sarah Batteese, who dispatched firefighters and rescue crews and urged Ellis not to return to the camper. Batteese also is a China firefighter.

Ellis said at the scene that she wanted to go back in to get her pocketbook and tried to do so but quickly realized she should have listened to the dispatcher.

“I got in there and got a mouthful of smoke, and the fire singed my forehead and my eyebrows,” she said.

“I came right back out.”

About 15 firefighters from area departments including China, South China, Weeks Mills and Vassalboro fought the fire, which was at the end of a half-mile, winding dirt road off state Route 32.

South China fire Chief Richard Morse said he was uncertain why the car engine caught fire. “They do that sometimes,” he said.

Delta Ambulance stood by at the scene as firefighters worked to put out the fire, which burned the front end off the camper and left the car a charred shell.

The camper is owned by Ellis’ boyfriend, Waterville resident Tim Elkins, who was not there then but drove there from Waterville when he learned of the fire.

Elkins said the camper, which he described as a 28-foot fifth-wheel Coachman, was uninsured and he estimated the cost to replace it at $8,000 to $9,000.

Elkins said that while he lost a lot of belongings in the fire, all he really cared about was that Ellis was safe.

“You can replace campers, but you can’t replace people,” he said.

He said he plans to get another camper and continue leasing the land at the campground, where about a dozen campers and a handful of camps are near the lake.

Firefighters found Ellis’ purse, which was a burned, melted mass of plastic, but she was able to peel it apart and remove her credit cards, driver’s license and birth certificate. They were relatively undamaged.

 

Amy Calder — 861-9247