PORTLAND, Maine — A local man has been charged with felony arson in the early Saturday morning fire set in the apartments above Colucci’s Hilltop Market that closed the neighborhood grocer and killed the store’s mascot, Portland police Lt. Gary Hutchinson said Sunday.
Montes Lopez, 24, was seen by a witness and arrested at the scene of the Munjoy Hill fire at 135 Congress St., and was charged with Class A arson as well as criminal trespassing, the lieutenant said.
Hutchinson said the suspect’s photo is being withheld because “they have to do a photo lineup on Monday [with the witness].”
State Rep. Diane Russell, who works part time at the store, posted information about the fire damage on Saturday.
“Early Saturday morning … someone snuck into the apartment building above Colucci’s and set the building on fire,” she posted on an online card she set up for the Coluccis. “The apartments up top, including Dickie Colucci’s, were destroyed. Sadie, a very sweet dog and the official Colucci’s mascot, perished.”
She also said, “The culprit has been caught” but did not give any details.
Colucci’s is a neighborhood corner store in the heart of the Munjoy Hill neighborhood, Russell said.
The fire was reported at about 3:45 a.m. by police who noticed smoke coming from the backside of the grocery that was started by Dickie Colucci’s parents decades ago, Portland fire Deputy Chief Scott Thomes said.
“They all got out safely,” the deputy chief said of the three residents who lived in the two floors above the store. “Nobody was injured, no firefighters were injured. They did lose one dog and two cats.”
The store is located directly across the street from the Munjoy Hill fire station, Thomes said. The fire was a two-alarm fire, meaning all available personnel, the ladder truck and heavy rescue were dispatched to the scene, he said.
“There is not much exterior damage, but there was extensive damage on the second and third floors in the rear,” the deputy chief said. “The firefighters did do a good job in salvaging the store.”
Firefighters used tarps to cover the equipment inside the business, which helped to protect it, Thomes said.
“I would say, with a little bit of cleaning up and some new stock, the store will be able to reopen,” he said. “It’s been there forever.”
Firefighters returned to their station just before 8:30 a.m., after checking and rechecking to see if any embers remained, Thomes said.
“It has a funny roof line, so they spent a lot of time digging it out,” the deputy chief said.
The blaze started in the rear stairwell, but what caused it is still under investigation, Thomes said.
The store has serious water damage and will be closed for the foreseeable future, putting everyone who works there temporarily out of work, said Russell, who represents Munjoy Hill and Downtown Portland has worked part-time at Colucci’s since 2008.
“Dickie and Bridget are such good people, and they deserve so much better than this. I spoke to Bridget this morning, and she’s devastated; it just breaks my heart,” she said. “My office will do what it can to help my co-workers through the unemployment process and it is my understanding the Red Cross is stepping in as well. Thank God the fire department was just across the street.”