LEWISTON, Maine — City officials say they’ve noticed a distinct difference in the quarter-mile that makes up the downtown since a series of spring fires burned nearly a dozen apartment buildings.
Cleanup and recovery from the April 29 through May 6 fires are works in progress, said Jeff Baril, the city’s police and code enforcement liaison.
“I think the downtown residents are more conscientious of the neighborhood and they’re keeping stuff clean,” Baril said. “They’re trying. Then we have some downtown landlords making responsible moves and working with their banks to get stuff fixed up or to move on.”
For Baril and other city officials dedicated to picking the area back up, the work continues.
“We are slowly getting a handle on things,” Baril said. “It’s going to take us years to really recover and get the housing market where it needs to be. But we are definitely headed in the right direction.”
It will be three months next weekend since the first of three arson fires devastated the downtown. Arrests have been made in all three.
The April 29 fire destroyed buildings at 105 Blake, 172 Bates and 82 Pine streets.
It was followed four days later by a fire that started at 149 Bartlett St. and quickly spread to buildings at 110, 114 and 116 Pierce St.
Three days later, three more buildings went up: 114 and 118 Bartlett St., and 91 Horton St.
City officials responded by inspecting the area’s vacant buildings, cataloging them and working to clean things up.
The city opened the landfill to downtown residents and landlords after the fires. They took 172 tons of trash to the dump between May 9 and June 7. That was trash that had littered vacant buildings and the areas between them, contributing to the fire hazard.
Building and fire inspectors cataloged every vacant tenement in the downtown, making sure they were clean inside and sealed securely to keep out squatters.
Baril said the effort to weed out the downtown’s worst buildings continues. Last year, the city demolished 13 vacant tenements and is on pace to tear down another 12 this summer.
The city hopes to demolish buildings at 186, 139 and 115 Bartlett St. this week, and buildings at 44 and 80 Birch St. and 92 Walnut St. in the next few weeks. Buildings at 102 Walnut St. and 3 Shawmut St. are scheduled to go to the City Council for demolition review next month.
A building at 91 Pine St. will have its fate decided by councilors next month, too, but the city plans to tear down the building’s porches next week.
“They are going to fall into the street if we don’t act,” Baril said. “We’ll just do it and move on.”
Inspectors now are going through occupied structures, to make sure they’re in good shape, he said. “And the inspections continue. We are systematically inspecting these buildings. We do more each day.”
Fire Chief Paul LeClair said people in the neighborhood are doing a good job of keeping an eye on things.
“They are aware of what’s going on and they report any mischief they see,” he said.