Marlboro fatal fire: Witnesses recall dangerous and confusing situation
Photo Gallery | Devastating fire in Marlboro
MARLBORO — Officials are still investigating the cause of a house fire that killed two women on Augur Hole Road Monday afternoon.
At 2:30 p.m. a first alarm went out to the Marlboro and Williamsville fire departments for an electrical fire with all occupants out of the building, according to Marlboro Fire Chief David Elliot. The fire was upgraded to a second alarm while Elliott was "en route still" with an engine, but before departments arrived, the owner of the house, Nancy Milligan, 73, was spotted running in and out of her house, according to Erik Schickedanz of Guilford who was driving by.
"I was driving by, she was running in and out of the house and looked distraught, so I helped calm her down and kept her from running back into the house," said Schickedanz.
When Schickendanz got out of his car to help Milligan, he said there was a "tremendous" amount of smoke and that it was "clearly dangerous" for her to be re-entering the building. Schickendanz went to the doorway and her dog came to him. The dog, Schickendanz and Milligan waited in the car until the EMTs arrived and Schickendanz said he wanted to make sure she didn't go back into the building.
"She was in no position to rescue anyone and given her physical condition, it would have been really hard for her to do anything," said Schickendanz, who described Milligan as frail, elderly and someone who may have had a hard time keeping her balance.
Milligan's neighbor, Vincent Panella, said he was driving by and arrived to the scene soon after Schickendanz. Panella said it was hard to understand whether Milligan was saying her two dogs or daughters were in the home; regardless, he went inside to check.
"I couldn't even get to the stairway, I called from six to eight feet from beyond the front door and there was total brown smoke. I called two or three times, 'Is anybody up there, anybody home?' And it was completely silent," said Panella. "I can't imagine anyone being alive at that point. It was clear at the time that I got there, the fire had to have been going for a great time."
Panella said departments arrived five to 10 minutes after he did, and according to Fire Mutual Aid the Marlboro Fire Department arrived at the scene at 2:47 p.m. Chief Elliot said Williamsville had arrived slightly before Marlboro.
Elliot said when he arrived, Williamsville firefighters were pulling their lines and starting to attack the fire through a window. According to Elliot, it was not until a good water stream was flowing that both departments were able to cool the fire down to a point where they could enter the first floor for a search. They went to approach the second floor, where they were uncertain of whether anyone was in the house, but the firefighters were backed out because of the heat and because they did not have enough air packs.
"Originally we were getting conflicting statements, one person was saying there were people in the house, others saying people were out," said Elliot. "There was enough heat that no one would have survived it."
The fire was eventually knocked down and according to a statement released by the Vermont State Police Arson Unit and Bureau of Criminal Investigation, the bodies of Laura Milligan, 41, and Elizabeth Milligan, 46, (Nancy's daughters) were later found on the second floor of the home.
"At this time, the cause of their death is still undetermined and pending an autopsy at the office of the chief medical examiner in Burlington," Lt. Daniel Trudeau, of the VSP Criminal Investigations Bureau, wrote in the release.
Although the cause of the fire and its origin have yet to be determined, it does not appear to be suspicious, Trudeau wrote. Damage to the house has rendered it a "total loss."
A joint investigation into the cause of the fire, by the VSP Arson Unit and the state Division of Fire Safety, is ongoing.
A nearby pond was used as water supply. Elliott called it a pretty good source. A metal roof over an asphalt roof was "the biggest problem," he said. There were different layers and crawl spaces with hot spots that firefighters needed to put out.
"The roof and floors on the second floor being compromised made it tough to extinguish," said Elliott.
Elliot noted another challenge was the distance from the scene to the fire department and the poor radio reception. Elliot said they needed to often walk to down the road a bit in order to have good reception so they could update dispatch that all personnel was accounted for.
Two cats, one dog and two or three birds were rescued from the fire, however according to Elliot at least one of the cats died later on the scene.
Elliot said he plans to call professionals who will offer counseling to the firefighters if needed.
"A lot of the time the firefighters are familiar with the families, in this case I don't know if there was a lot of that between the departments," said Elliot. "Whenever you have a fatality you want to make sure everyone has a venting process because even though it doesn't affect them now, something may trigger down the road. "
The Marlboro Fire Department received mutual aid assistance from numerous surrounding Fire Departments, on scene and as station coverage, including Williamsville, Wilmington, Halifax, Whitingham, Brattleboro, Newbrook, Guilford and West Dover. Assistance was also received from Green Mountain Power, Rescue Inc Ambulance and Vermont State Police
Anyone with information about or having had seen the house on fire prior to the Marlboro Fire Department's arrival is encouraged to contact Det. Sgt. Steven Otis at 802-875-2112.
Maddi Shaw can be reached at 802-254-2311 ext 275
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