LEWISTON, Maine — Firefighters from Auburn and Lewiston stayed overnight at the Blake Street fire scene, watching for hot spots and keeping onlookers away from three brittle apartment buildings destroyed by fire Monday evening.
By 10 a.m., contractors had arrived to take down two of the buildings — on Blake Street and Bates Street — that were in imminent collapse. The building on Pine likely will be taken down later this week.
Seventy-five people living in those apartment buildings were displaced as a result of the fire, and several pets were killed, including a pot-bellied pig on the third floor of the Blake Street building.
According to Assistant Lewiston Fire Chief Bruce McKay, state officials are at the fire site Tuesday morning to attempt to determine the origin and cause of the fire, but it’ll be hours before they’re able to get in the buildings. Local firefighters, who were still rolling up hoses at 9 a.m., will remain at the scene to assist with that investigation.
Someone from the state fire marshal’s office will inspect the buildings from a ladder truck rather than go inside the buildings.
Also at the scene were Lewiston Police Chief Michael Bussiere, Lt. Michael McGonagle and several Auburn fire officials.
On Monday evening, an Auburn firefighter set his helmet on the back of the truck and the helmet reportedly was stolen. Deputy Chief James Minkowsky criticized the theft because it left that firefighter without head protection at the scene and has asked that the helmet be returned to the department.
Early Tuesday, Central Maine Power crews were working on lines along the blocks surrounding the fire. Dozens of people stood along sidewalks and in the middle of closed streets watching the work crews and talking about the fire and the people who had been living in the burned buildings.
Public works crews started cleanup of the parking lot between Bates and Blake streets and the streets were stained with ash and other debris.
At 8:30 a.m., the front doors at 82 Pine St. were standing open and water was pouring out of the first-floor apartments and down the front stoop. All of the windows in that building had been smashed, allowing people to see the scattered furniture and other chaos inside the apartments.
Bates and Blake streets are closed between Pine and Ash streets and will remain so for most of Tuesday. Traffic is moving slowly through that area because the traffic light at Bates and Park street is out.
Friends of the fire victims have started a donation drive for clothes and other necessities. Donations of clothes and small items can be dropped at Kmart in Auburn, The Salvation Army on Park Street in Lewiston and the YWCA in Lewiston.
On Monday night, the United Valley chapter of the American Red Cross placed 14 people in local hotels, according to branch manager Jennifer Gaylord. The rest of the fire victims found shelter with friends and family.
Branch said the number of vouchers distributed by the Red Cross may go up tonight as families move around.
Red Cross staff and volunteers met with fire victims Monday night, Gaylord said, to make sure everyone had the basics, including food, shelter and clothing.
Today, volunteers are meeting with more people for follow-ups and offering mental health services to fire victims.
“This is a horribly traumatic experience — people have lost everything. The thing I kept hearing last night was, ‘What do I do now?’” Gaylord said.
Red Cross is able to help with rental referrals and with details such as prescription medicine replacement.
“Our biggest concern is to get them a place to stay,” Gaylord said.
The agency is working on details to establish drop-off locations for donations. In the meantime, the group would appreciate funds to assist victims.
“In our last year in Androscoggin County, we helped 60 people. This year so far we’ve helped 183 and that doesn’t include this 75. We are stretched to the max at this point. I know that everybody is strapped, but financial donations are definitely needed,” Gaylord said.
To make a donation, go to redcross.org/me or call 795-4004, ext. 301
The apartment building at 105 Blake St. was valued at $191, 340, according to tax records, and is owned by Watkins Property Management. It had been condemned and was scheduled to be auctioned May 22, according to a neighbor.
The building at 172 Bates St. is owned by Caron Property Management and is assessed at $210,000. It had an “auction” sign hanging on the Bates Street side.
The building at 82 Pine St. is owned by ASM Properties LLC.
Distributed by MCT Information Services