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Portland firefighters clear historic building after bedbug bomb is mistaken for fire smoke

Seth Koenig | BDN
Seth Koenig | BDN
A Portland Fire Department ladder truck is parked at the old North School building near the corner of Congress and India streets early Wednesday evening, Aug. 22, 2012. Firefighters responded to a fire alarm at the site and evacuated the building, only to discover that it was a case of someone mistaking a bed bug bomb for fire smoke.
By Seth Koenig, BDN Staff

PORTLAND, Maine — Portland firefighters responded to a fire alarm and evacuated a historic apartment building late Wednesday afternoon, but it turned out to be a case of mistaken identity: The alarm was apparently pulled when somebody at the site mistook the cloud of a bedbug bomb as smoke from a fire.

Three Portland Fire Department trucks could be seen at or near the 1867 North School at 248 Congress St. until just after 5 p.m. Wednesday, but after clearing the structure, which about 30 years ago was converted for use as an apartment building for the elderly, firefighters reportedly determined there was no fire at the site.

Rather, someone there pulled the alarm after seeing a plume of pesticides and mistaking it for smoke, city spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said.

A controlled treatment was apparently under way to rid at least one of the building’s units of so-called bedbugs, and the cloud of parasite-killing chemicals confused someone, whose identity was unclear Wednesday night.

The pests were all but eradicated from developed countries about 70 years ago, but made a comeback within the past two decades. Last month, a study found that over-the-counter aerosol insecticides — such as “bug bombs” or “fogs” — are almost entirely ineffective against wild bedbugs holed up in bed sheets.

The North School building is in its final stages of an extensive renovation project, but portions of the building are still inhabited.

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