ST. ALBANS CITY — A man critically injured in an apartment building fire early Wednesday morning died yesterday as other tenants gathered their things and looked to move forward.
Thomas Page, 72, passed away at Fletcher Allen Health Center in Burlington at 7:30 p.m. after sustaining serious burns to his back and arms in a fire at 203 South Main St. Authorities believe the fire was caused by a cigarette.
Page leaves behind his two sons, Todd and Thomas Page, who lived with their father and work at Walmart. Neither Todd nor Thomas could be contacted by press time today.
Building tenants Alyssa Fairbanks and Kyle Theoret, both 25, lived above Page and said yesterday afternoon that they didn’t know him all that well. “He kind of kept to himself,” said Fairbanks. “We’ve said hi a few times.”
Page, Fairbanks and Theoret were three of 11 residents, including a family with three young children that lived in the building’s five apartments. Page, who was a double amputee, reported a fire in his #4 apartment to St. Albans City Police at 1:11 a.m. on Wednesday, telling police that he was trapped.
Page’s two sons weren’t home at the time of the fire.
Police, fire, and rescue personnel responded to the scene, with St. Albans Town and Georgia Fire Departments providing mutual aid to the St. Albans City Fire Department. Officers arrived first on the scene, and heard Page yelling for help in his apartment. They entered and carried Page outside, even as an explosion took place in Page’s apartment, according to St. Albans Fire and Police Chief Gary Taylor.
“At great risk, they went into that apartment,” Taylor said.
One officer stayed with Page until he could be transported to Northwestern Medical Center, where he was stabilized and then taken to Fletcher Allen.
The other officers went to get the rest of the building’s residents out, and according to Taylor, officers had to break windows and doors to wake the sleeping tenants.
Theoret and Fairbanks, who are engaged to marry and had lived in their apartment for two years, said that they woke to smoke and a bright light outside their second-story bedroom.
“It was scary,” Fairbanks said. “I grabbed my glasses and he got a pair of shorts and we got out.”
The apartment building, owned by David Wry and Todd Waite, had firewalls, smoke alarms, and fire extinguishers, and the fire was pretty much contained in Page’s apartment. It had reached the roof by the time firefighters had arrived, but the fire was put out fairly quickly and the building was saved.
Wry said he was at the fire scene and the smoke alarms were sounding.
“We were able to keep the fire out of the other apartments,” said Taylor. “Things worked exactly the way they were supposed to work,” he said, adding that the building was in compliance with city fire regulations.
Fairbanks and Theoret attributed their survival to the firewalls. “I think that’s what saved us,” said Fairbanks. “We got lucky.”
The firefighters also saved some family pets, including Fairbanks and Theoret’s two cats, Charlie and Dee.
“The firefighters were awesome and got our cats out for us,” Fairbanks said.
The couple also praised the building owners, who they said were there during the fire and offered all the tenants a place to stay.
“[They] were nice,” said Fairbanks.
Most firefighters left the scene by 4 a.m., and Vermont State Police Fire Investigation Unit members arrived by 6 a.m. As of this morning, the investigation was still ongoing, but investigators have issued a press release saying that the fire is considered non-suspicious at this time, and is believed to have been due to a carelessly discarded cigarette.
Damage to the building has been estimated at $250,000.
Residents were allowed to re-enter the building by yesterday afternoon to retrieve their belongings and salvage what they could. Theoret and Fairbanks said that their things had some smoke and water damage, but that it could have been worse for them. The couple said they were focusing on moving forward – Fairbanks is expecting a child and the two will be getting married in September.
“Thankfully, my dress wasn’t in there,” said Fairbanks. “My sister’s was, but should be fine.”
Even if all of their stuff had been ruined, Fairbanks said it wouldn’t have mattered as much as getting out safely. “The other stuff is just stuff,” she said. “We’re alive and our cats are alive.”
The fatal fire was the first in St. Albans City since Sept. 21, 2008 when Christine Malboeuf, 57, died as the result of a blaze in her Lower Newton Street home.