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Four Killed In Fire Blamed On Child Playing With Matches

January 17, 1985

AUGUSTA, Maine (AP) _ A wind-whipped fire that swept through a wood-frame house, killing four members of one family, was started by a youngster playing with matches, authorities said.

The two-story house ″went up very fast,″ Andrew Cooper, platoon chief for the Augusta Fire Department, said Wednesday. ″When the wind got hold of it, that was it.″

Six other people were injured, including two firefighters, but two young children escaped serious harm after being dropped from a second-floor window into the arms of a friend, according to fire officials and witnesses.

Ronald Evans, assistant state fire marshal, said one of four young children in the house accidentally ignited clothing on a kitchen coat rack.

Killed were Lionel J. Tardiff, 63, who was blind; his wife Rita, 62; their grandson, Shawn Tardiff, 5; and Angela Gilbert, 2, who neighbors said was also a grandchild of the dead couple.

Two other grandchildren - Stephen Tardiff, 11/2 , and 3-month-old Matthew D. Gilbert, brothers of the dead children - were saved when they were dropped outside by Sandra Tardiff, 19, Stephen’s mother and the daughter of Lionel and Rita Tardiff, officials and witnesses said.

″The babies are all right. They just cried,″ said Norman Crochere, a former neighbor who was working across the street and ran over when he heard a woman crying for help.

″I saw Sandy ... she was yelling, ‘There’s babies in here,’ ″ said Crochere, 28. ″There was a flame at the front door ... We would have gone in, by Jesus, but we just couldn’t.″

″I went around the side ... I told her to throw the babies ’cause we can’t get in,″ Crochere, a self-employed handyman, said. ″I stopped their fall.″

Then the woman jumped, and Crochere said he helped break her fall. As Crochere and James Thayer, 33, helped her away, ″she said there’s more babies in there,″ Crochere said. ″It was too late.″

Evans said the construction of the roughly 75-year-old house, combined with high winds, caused the fire to spread quickly. Winds were gusting up to 40 miles an hour in the area Wednesday morning, said a spokesman for the National Weather Service bureau in Portland.

Sandra Tardiff called the fire department from a phone in the first floor kitchen at 8:40 a.m., then passed the phone to her mother and went to rescue the children upstairs, where she was trapped, fire officials said.

The elder Tardiffs and the boy who died were found together in a first- floor living room, and Angela Gilbert’s body was lying at the top of the stairs.A post-mortem showed they had all died of smoke inhalation, Evans said.

Sandra Tardiff was in satisfactory condition at the Kennebec Valley Medical Center with a broken arm, leg and ankle and other injuries, a hospital spokesman said.Stephen Tardiff and Matthew Gilbert, who were being treated for minor burns and smoke inhalation, also were listed in satisfactory condition.

Peter Bolduc, 21, a friend of the family who was living in the house, was treated for minor burns and a foot injury and released, the spokesman said. Witnesses said Bolduc jumped 15 feet off a back porch.

One firefighter was treated for an injured back and released. Another was seeking treatment for a shoulder injury, officials said.