When firefighters arrived at 15 Elm Circle at noon Tuesday, flames were shooting from the upper floor.
The occupants, including a child who had been playing with a cigarette lighter in a second-floor bedroom where the fire started, were out of the building, Deputy Fire Chief George Phillips said.
But, because the woman called 911 on a cell phone, it took longer for firefighters to respond, Phillips said. Unlike traditional telephones that directly connect to local emergency dispatchers, a cell call goes to a state police dispatch center and has to be routed to local agencies.
“A few minutes make a difference,” Phillips said. “Even in five minutes, a fire can get a good head start.”
The fire destroyed a bedroom in the single-family bungalow located at the end of the short street off West Elm Street. The remainder of the house suffered smoke, water and heat damage, according to Lt. Edward Williams of fire prevention.
Phillips estimated damage at $80,000. No injuries were reported.
The Red Cross assisted the family in finding shelter because the building was uninhabitable.
Authorities are trying to determine the owner of the property, believed to be a relative of the occupant, who was not identified.
The woman, they said, was caring for three children, two of her own and one she was babysitting, when the fire started. Authorities did not identify which child set the fire, but said all children were 6 years old or younger.
Williams said authorities suggest that parents get counseling for a child who plays with matches or lighters.
According to the National Fire Protection Association, hundreds die and thousands are injured each year in fires started by children. Preschoolers are the most likely to start fires, typically with matches or lighters and are most likely to die in the fires, the NFPA reports on its Web site, www.nfpa.org.
Pictures by Bob Myers