ATHENS — Earle Shepardson was at work at Key Appliance in Skowhegan on Tuesday morning when he got the phone call from his girlfriend, Michelle Bancroft, saying their South Main Street mobile home was on fire.

In a matter of minutes the fire, which Shepardson said he believes started from a wood stove around 10 a.m., spread through the house. Bancroft suffered burns on her hands.

The couple, who have two daughters ages 6 and 3, had just three payments left on the house before it was theirs, and they do not have insurance.

“If it was just me I would sleep in my shed out back, but my little girls mean more to me than anything in the world,” said Shepardson, 43, as he surveyed the damage to the house at 193 South Main St. “They haven’t even seen the house yet.”

Bancroft was taken to Redington-Fairview General Hospital in Skowhegan for treatment and is expected to recover.

Bancroft was home alone when the fire started. She had just dropped off the youngest girl with a babysitter, Shepardson said.

“She opened the wood stove and (the fire) flashed back at her,” he said. “I don’t know how it started, if it was a back draft or something, but it spread quickly.”

The couple has lived in the mobile home for five years but bought the wood stove new this winter.

Brett Strout, first assistant fire chief in Athens, said fire officials are not sure how the fire started but when firefighters arrived they saw smoke coming out of the front of the house and flames coming from an addition in the back. The house is destroyed and will not be habitable.

Strout said the cause of the fire is not suspicious and that the Office of the Maine State Fire Marshal will investigate.

Around 11:30 a.m. Tuesday, Shepardson stood outside the remains of the house holding two Mickey Mouse stuffed toys that the American Red Cross had brought for his daughters.

“Everything melted,” he said talking about the damage. “The TV in the back bedroom melted, everything, the front doors of the refrigerator.”

Debbie Foss, whose daughter lives next door to Bancroft and Shepardson, was helping Shepardson try to salvage belongings from the burnt-out house, though almost everything was smoke damaged, she said.

“I hate seeing things like this,” Foss said. “I feel bad for the girls having to come home to it.”

Shepardson said he wasn’t sure where the family will stay, though Foss said they were welcome to stay with her, and the American Red Cross has also offered to help them.

“I don’t know yet all what we lost,” he said. “None of it has really sunk in yet.”

Firefighters from Athens, Cornville, Harmony, Madison and Skowhegan responded to the fire.

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