Owner of Portland store damaged by alleged arson recounts night of the fire

Dickie Colucci, co-owner of Colucci's Hilltop Market on Munjoy Hill in Portland, stands outside the store Monday afternoon after it was damaged over the weekend by a fire.
William Hall | The Forecaster
Dickie Colucci, co-owner of Colucci's Hilltop Market on Munjoy Hill in Portland, stands outside the store Monday afternoon after it was damaged over the weekend by a fire.
Posted March 12, 2013, at 10:51 a.m.
Last modified March 12, 2013, at 12:16 p.m.
Still shrouded in fire-scene tape Monday, the building at 135 Congress St. in Portland was the site of alleged arson that severely damaged Colucci's Hilltop Market and destroyed three upstairs apartments.
William Hall | The Forecaster
Still shrouded in fire-scene tape Monday, the building at 135 Congress St. in Portland was the site of alleged arson that severely damaged Colucci's Hilltop Market and destroyed three upstairs apartments.

PORTLAND, Maine — Colucci’s Hilltop Market, a decades-old, family-run fixture at 135 Congress St. on Munjoy Hill, will likely be closed “a couple months” after it was severely damaged by an alleged arson early Saturday, store co-owner Dickie Colucci said Monday afternoon.

“There’s smoke damage, there’s water damage. The ceilings came down, and the tiles on the floor are puffed-up from the water,” Colucci said.

Firefighters tried to minimize the damage by covering the store’s equipment with tarps, according to fire Deputy Chief Scott Thomes. Despite those efforts, “opening again isn’t something that’s going to happen overnight,” Colucci said.

Besides damage to the store, three apartments upstairs — including one Colucci shared with girlfriend Jennifer Doughty — are “totally gone,” he said.

No one was injured in the blaze, but it killed two pet cats and Colucci’s dog. Nine people were displaced by the damage.

Police arrested Elroy Montes-Lopez, 24, of 96 Morning St., in connection with the fire. He is charged with arson and criminal trespass, and is being held at Cumberland County Jail on $20,000 bail.

Montes-Lopez’ arrest photo was not released Monday because of the ongoing investigation, City Hall spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said.

Colucci described the terrifying moments before the two-alarm fire, which was reported about 3:45 a.m.

“I woke up, and there was a person standing in our bedroom,” he said. “We had left the front door open for our son, and I thought maybe this was a friend of his … but it was nobody we knew.”

Colucci offered to give Montes-Lopez, the alleged intruder, a ride home and a glass of water that he asked for.

“But he wouldn’t talk to me, and didn’t speak English well,” Colucci said. “He didn’t want to leave, and I said, ‘You have to leave.’ So I put him out in the hallway, locked the door and called 911.”

Police responded almost immediately and confronted Montes-Lopez inside the building as he was trying to leave. Colucci joined police and said he then found smoke coming from a common closet in the second-floor hallway. While smoke alarms sounded, Colucci and police tried to extinguish the fire.

“I pulling stuff from the closet, batting at the fire, but it got away from us,” he said.

Firefighters from the Munjoy Hill station, directly across the street, responded. But the fire moved so quickly that residents had to be evacuated through a narrow stairway in the rear of the building.

“We couldn’t go down the front way, it was totally blocked off with smoke. … And the fire was so quick. By the time we got downstairs and on the street, the smoke was coming out our windows,” Colucci said.

He had to leave behind his dog, Sadie, a Bernese mountain dog who was the store’s mascot.

“[Sadie] wouldn’t go down the rear stairs, and we didn’t have time to fight with her. I just got Jennifer and myself out. It was the best we could do,” Colucci said.

State Rep. Diane Russell, D-Portland, who represents Munjoy Hill and works part-time at the store, has posted an online card she created to show support for the Colucci family.

Meanwhile, the American Red Cross has helped residents find shelter, and Colucci is staying with friends in the neighborhood.

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