Jennifer Dugre hugs her son Matthew Perkins, 11, before entering their home at 46 Elm St. in Sanford to retrieve belongings after a fire broke out overnight. Matthew smelled the smoke before the smoke detectors went off and woke everyone up.  Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

SANFORD — It was approaching midnight and 11-year-old Matthew Perkins couldn’t sleep. He was quietly playing with toy cars when the smell of smoke drifted into his bedroom.

He ran to wake up his mother, Jennifer Dugre, and older brother, Dan Perkins. Within minutes, smoke detectors were blaring and the apartment building on Elm Street was engulfed in flames. Everyone who lived there escaped without injury.

“He’s the hero. Without him, we wouldn’t be here,” Dugre said Wednesday as she stood outside the building, the acrid smell of smoke and burned wood and plastic lingering in the air. A smoke detector chirped every few minutes, making Dugre chuckle as she prepared to go back into her apartment for the first time.

The fire broke out around 11:30 p.m. Tuesday at 46 Elm St., a two-story building with five units near the mill complex in downtown Sanford. Crews from Sanford and surrounding towns battled the three-alarm fire through the night. The cause of the fire, which tenants believe started outside, is under investigation, according to fire officials.

The building is now condemned and most tenants lost all of their belongings. But Dugre and her sons, who lived on the first floor at the rear of the building, were lucky. Their apartment had some water damage, but most of their belongings are salvageable. Firefighters rescued their guinea pig and two hamsters.

Jennifer Dugre becomes emotional while retrieving items from her home in Sanford, which was destroyed in an overnight fire. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

“We’re super blessed. I can’t say it enough,” Dugre said. “We cried. We got on our knees to say our prayers. Now we’re finding things to joke about.”


Dugre said she and her sons stood outside the building for hours while firefighters put out the flames, then stayed with family. She’s thankful for every firefighter who responded. She said the outpouring of love and support from the community and from her church, Curtis Lake Christian Church, are overwhelming.

“Sanford is sometimes known for being horrible, but there’s so much good here,” she said.

Dugre moved into the apartment with Matthew and her 18-year-old son Dan two years ago after her divorce. She hung a thermometer decorated with flowers and the phrase “Enjoy the little things” by the front door and applied wall decals in the kitchen, including one reminding her to “Let go and let God.”

White Bark Properties LLC, which owns several hundred apartments in southern Maine, bought the Elm Street building in July. The fire displaced three families who were living in the building. The onsite manager arrived at the building within minutes of hearing about the fire to ensure tenants were safe, then worked with the American Red Cross to make sure they had temporary lodging, said Matthew Goldfine, a representative for the company.

Residents embrace outside their home in Sanford, which was destroyed in an overnight fire. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

By noon Wednesday, White Bark Properties had arranged for Dugre and her sons to move into another apartment building in the city, in the same neighborhood where Dugre grew up. A second family will move into a new apartment Thursday. The third family is away on vacation, but an apartment will be ready for them when they return, Goldfine said.

A fourth family was scheduled to move into the building on Jan. 1. Goldfine said the company is working with them to make sure a different apartment is ready by this weekend.


White Bark Properties is still waiting for the fire marshal and city officials to rule on a cause before deciding what to do with the building.

Dugre and her sons began moving their belongings to their new apartment Wednesday afternoon. While Dan Perkins called on friends to bring trucks to move furniture and carried spoiled food out to the dumpster, Dugre loaded her dishes, toaster and cooking utensils into bins.

“It’s another day in paradise,” she said. “We woke up safe and healthy.”

Jennifer Dugre and her son Dan Perkins, 18, retrieve belongings from their home at 46 Elm St. after an overnight fire destroyed most of the building. Derek Davis/Staff Photographer

After loading their two cars with the kitchen items and Matthew’s hoverboard, Dugre stopped to embrace other tenants who came to look at the remains of their apartments. A passing pickup truck slowed to look at the blackened building and the people lingering in the icy parking lot.

“It sucks,” Dugre said, “but we’re going to be OK.”

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