PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Firefighters rushed into a burning mobile home in far northern Maine early Thursday but they were too late to save a 28-year-old woman and her three children killed in the inferno — the latest fire deaths in a devastating month for the state.
Norma Skidgel, 2-year-old twins Mason and Madison Delisle and 3-year-old Trenton Delisle died in the blaze that ripped through the home in Caribou, 300 miles north of Portland, at about 7 a.m., state police said.
Authorities said they are still investigating the cause of the fire and that the victims will be transferred to the state medical examiner in Augusta for an autopsy on Friday.
Investigators found a smoke detector in the mobile home but the battery had been removed, police said.
The small city near the Canadian border has been shaken by the deaths, said assistant city manager Tony Mazzucco, who called the fire "a tragedy."
Officials said the fire occurred in a mobile home park on the city's outskirts, about four miles from Aroostook National Wildlife Refuge. The small park consists of three rows of trailers in a sparsely populated, rural area.
Skidgel's sister, Amy Bouchard, and her two sons also lived in the home, police said. Bouchard left soon before the fire to put one of her sons on a bus at a nearby stop and returned to find the house ablaze, police said. Bouchard's other son spent the night elsewhere, police said.
Bouchard is being treated at a local hospital for smoke inhalation she suffered while attempting to get back inside during the fire, police said.
Maine Public Safety Department spokesman Steven McCausland said 25 people have died in fires this year in the state, the most in 21 years. Fires killed 27 in 1993.
This month has been especially deadly for Maine fires. A blaze Nov. 1 in Portland claimed six lives and another this week killed a man in St. Francis in far northern Maine. The 11 fire fatalities in November have accounted for more in one month than occurred in all of 2010, when the state recorded nine fatalities, an all-time low for the state. The worst year for fire deaths was 1967, when 70 people died from fires, McCausland said.
"It illustrates how quickly the death total can rise with a single fire and multiple victims," McCausland said.
State public health officials encouraged residents to make sure their homes have working smoke detectors and that families review fire escape route plans.