Bangor, Portland officials reaching out to offer aid to Lewiston in wake of trio of fires

Posted May 06, 2013, at 2:40 p.m.

BANGOR, Maine — Maine communities are reaching out to Lewiston officials after a trio of major fires in the past week displaced nearly 200 residents.

Over the weekend, after the second fire caused an estimated $1 million in damage to three downtown buildings, Bangor City Councilor Joe Baldacci suggested that Bangor offer to aid in the recovery effort. He made the suggestion before the third fire broke out Monday morning.

Baldacci said City Manager Cathy Conlow planned to contact Lewiston officials Monday to see what help they might need. Conlow suggested a donation to the Red Cross might be the best way contribute, according to Baldacci.

Ed Barrett, Lewiston’s city administrator, was Bangor’s city manager for 22 years.

“I think if we could make a donation like that, other communities might consider doing the same,” Baldacci said Monday.

“Bangor had a fire a long time ago, people all over the state helped us,” Baldacci said, referring to the Great Fire of 1911, which swept through and destroyed much of the Queen City.

Portland Mayor Michael Brennan planned to call Lewiston Mayor Robert Macdonald to see what help Portland could offer, and Portland Fire Chief Jerome LaMoria planned to reach out to Lewiston’s chief, Paul LeClair, city spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said early Monday afternoon.

“We’re obviously very concerned [for Lewiston],” Clegg said. “We know that when challenges like this come up, help from other municipalities can be crucial.”

Clegg wasn’t sure what came of those conversations.

The fires that tore through three groups of buildings have compounded an already busy year for Maine’s American Red Cross branch, according to Patricia Murtagh, Regional Chief Executive Officer for the American Red Cross.

The Lewiston area has been hit especially hard. In 2012, the American Red Cross’ United Valley Branch, which covers Lewiston and the surrounding area, helped about 60 individuals, most of whom had been displaced by fires.

Before the first in the series of Lewiston fires on April 29, the branch had helped three times that number of people. With nearly 200 more Lewiston residents displaced by recent fires, the number of people who received Red Cross assistance in Androscoggin County is approaching 400, according to Murtaugh.

Statewide this year, prior to the Lewiston fires, the Maine branch of the Red Cross provided assistance to more than 1,000 people. That number was only slightly less than the total from all of 2012, according to Murtaugh. With the recent rash of Lewiston fires, the 2012 total will be surpassed, she said.

“Our goal is to help people immediately,” Murtaugh said.

The American Red Cross is mandated to provide assistance to anyone in need after disasters, and its efforts are funded largely through donations and fundraising, Murtaugh said. The agency provides victims with shelter, clothing, food and placement services in order to help them restart their lives as quickly as possible, Murtaugh said. The average cost of helping a family of four in the wake of a fire is about $1,200-$1,500.

Murtaugh didn’t know how much the Red Cross had received in donations since the fires, but did say “people tend to respond very quickly in situations like this.”

The Red Cross is beginning to open mailed-in contributions and has taken many phone calls from donors in the wake of the fires, she said. The YWCA in Lewiston, which was accepting donations of clothing and necessities for victims, has stopped taking donations because it received too much, according to Murtaugh.

Murtaugh said the temporary shelter the Red Cross set up in Lewiston High School would close Monday afternoon or Tuesday, depending on how many people were able to find alternate housing. At its busiest time, the makeshift shelter was home to 50 individuals displaced by the fire. Most people were able to stay with family or friends after the fires.

“It’s been a truly amazing effort from this community,” from people who have made donations of clothing or money to the fire and police crews who have worked tirelessly, Murtaugh said.

“I just think it’s important that we all show our support for Lewiston and help them as best we can,” Baldacci said.

To donate to the American Red Cross, visit http://www.redcross.org/support/donating-fundraising/donations or call 1-800-733-2767 (1-800-RED-CROSS).

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