LEWISTON, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage counseled city residents fearful after a week of dangerous fires to keep calm and carry on.
“You take one step at a time, and move forward,” LePage said Tuesday during a visit to the city. “These are disaster times and you do the best you can do with what you have. The encouraging thing is that there are a lot of people willing to help.”
LePage walked with Lewiston city officials, including Mayor Robert Macdonald, City Administrator Ed Barrett and police, fire and city staff, on a tour of the sites of three major fires within a week in downtown Lewiston.
LePage said he had little sympathy for any of those accused of starting the fires. Police say 12-year-old Brody Covey was responsible for the April 29 fire that destroyed buildings at 105-111 Blake St. and 172 Bates St.
A second 12-year-old has been charged with setting fires late Friday that burned four buildings on Pierce and Bartlett streets. The court has declined to released that boy’s name until his arraignment on May 13.
No arrests have been made in the most recent fire on Bartlett and Horton streets Monday morning.
“They ought to be put away,” LePage said. “Do they realize how much devastation they’ve caused? I mean, I’ve been on the street at [11 years old], and you know what you are doing. I’m sorry, but those 12-year-olds need to be handled to the fullest extent of the law.”
LePage said he was going back to meet with state agencies to see what help was available for the city of Lewiston, but doubted there would be much money. He said he planned to quiz legislators to find out if there is money available to help fire victims.
“If there is discretionary funding available, I haven’t found any,” LePage said.
However, lawmakers from Lewiston say the governor does have the authority under state law to allocate as much as $350,000 from his emergency contingency fund for emergency use. The governor could, in consultation with the state budget officer, allocate up to $750,000 from this fund.
“We hope the governor will use his authority to release these funds today to help a community in need,” said Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston.
“We are urging him to declare this situation an emergency and to access all state and federal funds. The Legislature created the governor’s contingency fund for emergency scenarios just like this.”
“The people of Lewiston need help,” Sen. Margaret Craven, D-Lewiston, said.
“Hundreds of people have lost everything and are homeless, and if this doesn’t qualify as an emergency, then I don’t know what does. If the governor has access to any funding, it needs to be released now to help these people get their lives back together.”
The three fires have caused more than $2.5 million in damage, destroyed 77 apartments in nine buildings and left more than 200 people homeless.
Asked about reports that one of his brothers had been among those rescued from the Blake Street fire one week ago, LePage said it was a private matter and declined to comment.
Deputy City Administrator Phil Nadeau told the governor that the city planned to get “very aggressive” downtown, particularly with out-of-state landlords. Many of the old buildings need a lot of attention or they need to come down, he said.
“We can’t risk loss of life,” said LePage. “Hopefully [the worst] is over.”