SACO – As Marcia Lee surveyed the rubble of her mother’s house Thursday, tears welled in her eyes.

“It’s the craziest things we’ve been able to save,” she said.

Like the necklace she was wearing or the pencil drawing of lambs her great-grandmother sketched. Just Thursday morning, Lee unearthed a stuffed tiger, charred but intact, that belonged to her 9-year-old daughter Anje.

But nearly five months after a fire destroyed the home of Lee’s mother, Doris Loomer, on Piney Woods Road, city officials say it is time for the debris to be removed, and they have threatened legal action if the property is not cleared soon. The issue, however, is the family can’t afford the cost of removal.

Loomer, 76, had lapsed on her homeowner’s insurance and is behind on her property taxes. Lee said her mother’s monthly tax bill to pay for part of 2009, 2010 and the current year far exceeds her income, which is about $430 a month from Social Security benefits.

Lee, 52, said fall was the last time she had work as a public health consultant, attributing the shortage of work to the current economic climate.

“When I had a good income, I took care of everybody,” Lee said. “I’m in a position right now where things are so tough that I can’t do that.”

Lee had just finished moving all her possessions into her mother’s home when the fire broke out around 11 p.m. Feb. 5, starting in the back corner of the house that overlooks the marsh. She planned to live there with her daughter and help Loomer, who has Alzheimer’s disease and congestive heart failure.

That night, the three were staying in Lee’s summer cottage on Palmer Avenue, which abuts her mother’s property.

Fire officials say the blaze may have been caused by a rare winter lightning storm that rolled through the area that night.

Code Enforcement Officer Dick Lambert said the city typically works with homeowners and their insurance company to clear property after a fire, but there isn’t a specific time frame in which rubble must be removed.

However, Mayor Ron Michaud said at a certain point, it becomes a health and safety issue.

“That’s a tourist area. If there are kids in the neighborhood playing in the area, it’s not fenced in and kids could get injured,” he said. “And neighbors have complained about the odor and the scene.”

Lambert said the charred smell resurfaces when it rains or with recent humidity. He said the rubble is also presenting an environmental issue with its proximity to the marsh.

Kenny Blow of Blow Bros. said removing and disposing of that much debris could cost as much as $10,000. Blow, who described himself as “soft-hearted,” said he would donate his services to haul everything away for Lee, but that would still leave a price tag of about $5,000 for disposal.

Lambert said the city has offered to take care of the disposal but would charge Loomer. Michaud said that would result in a lien on the property.

“I don’t believe they’re in agreement that they want to do that,” Lambert said.

Said Lee: “My hope would be that the city would step up and help cover the cost of disposal.”

Michaud said covering the cost of disposal would be asking taxpayers to foot the bill. He said the city offers general assistance for housing, food or utility expenses until residents facing hard times get back on their feet.

“We’re aware this is a tough situation for them, but you can’t unilaterally say, ‘We’re sorry and we’ll take care of this for you,’ and bill the taxpayers for it,” Michaud said.

Lee hopes to rent her cottage during the summer months for some income. She said her tentative plans are to move with her mother and daughter to a family home in Massachusetts.

The family has also set up a fund to raise money for removal costs and to rebuild. Lee said they’ve raised only a few hundred dollars at this point.

Staff Writer Emma Bouthillette can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

[email protected]