SKOWHEGAN — When 19-year-old Sonya Fox looked out her window and saw black smoke rising from the house across the street, one thing crossed her mind.

“I was just thinking about my Aunt Evelyn,” said Fox. “I ran across the street to help her get out.”

Evelyn McElrath, 89, has lived in the house at 354 Water St. for close to 50 years and was sitting at home watching television when a fire broke out, apparently started by a lit cigarette on the porch outside.

Fox rushed across the street and led her aunt, who requires a tank of oxygen to breathe, to safety.

The house is owned by McElrath’s daughter, Stephanie, and is divided into apartments among family members. At around 4:30 p.m. Monday, McElrath’s son, Jerry Vashon, who lives upstairs with his wife and three dogs, said he went outside to have a cigarette before coming back inside to make dinner.

“I put it out and then I went back inside to tend to supper,” said Vashon, 62. “I turned around and saw yellow flames shooting across the front door.”


Vashon said he grabbed a hose and tried to put the fire out. Meanwhile, Fox saw the flames from across the street and called 911.

The cigarette was the cause of the fire, according to Shawn Howard, interim fire chief, although Vashon said he had extinguished it in an ash tray.

“I don’t know if there was a gust of wind or what it was,” Howard said.

The damage to the house was confined mostly to the exterior, although there was some smoke and water damage inside, said Howard. The home should be livable.

One man was treated for minor burns, he said.

After firefighters left, Fox and other family members opened windows for ventilation while McElrath watched from a chair in the driveway.

“She is my great-niece, but she is also a close friend and neighbor,” she said of Fox. “She’s always been over here a lot. She looks after me.”

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

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