Four overnight fires in Lewiston confirmed to be intentionally set

Posted April 10, 2014, at 8:57 a.m.
Last modified April 10, 2014, at 6:14 p.m.

LEWISTON, Maine — Firefighters battled four fires reported in just 3½ hours Thursday morning in downtown Lewiston, all of which the state fire marshal’s office said were intentionally set.

Early Thursday afternoon, a fifth suspicious fire was discovered in the area of 61 River St., Sgt. Ken Grimes of the state fire marshal’s office said after a Thursday afternoon news conference. Investigators continue to look into the cause of that fire.

Thursday’s fires burned buildings near a section of the city that less than a year ago was plagued with a string of fires determined to be arson. But Lewiston Fire Chief Paul LeClair declined to comment Thursday morning on any possible connection among Thursday’s fires or to those set in the spring of 2013.

“There’s certainly some commonality between [Thursday’s] fires,” Grimes said. “But we’re examining all aspects of whether they’re definitely related or not.”

The first fire, reported at 1 a.m. at 135 Oxford St., was “handled very quickly” by first responders, LeClair said, and no residents of the two-unit building were displaced.

A second fire at a vacant building at 44 Nichols St. was called in at 3 a.m. The building was a total loss, according to LeClair.

An hour and a half later, two other fires, at 48 Howe St. and 21-23 Howe St., were reported.

The house at 48 Howe St. received minor damage. Fires at the two attached buildings at 21-23 Howe St. were both roaring when firefighters arrived, and each was a total loss, according to LeClair.

Twenty to 25 people were displaced from the two attached buildings, which included seven apartments.

Grimes said Thursday afternoon that no arrests had been made, but that investigators “are in the process of chasing every lead we can find.”

Lewiston Police Chief Michael Bussiere said specific measures are being taken to prevent additional fires, but declined to elaborate.

The United Valley Branch of the American Red Cross worked Thursday to help those displaced by the day’s fires, spokesman John Lamb said. The organization will provide emergency shelter, food and clothing “and help them begin the recovery process,” Lamb said.

Lewiston School Department staff described as “homeless liaisons” worked throughout the day Thursday to locate six students who were among those displaced by the fires, in order to arrange transportation for them to continue attending school.

The students attend Montello Elementary School, Lewiston Middle School and Lewiston High School.

“Our thoughts and prayers go out to those impacted by the fires, and we have and will assist students who need clothing, food and support to get through this crisis,” Superintendent Bill Webster said in a statement.

Three fires within a week in April and May 2013 destroyed 10 buildings on Blake, Bartlett and Pierce streets, drawing hundreds of firefighters from throughout the region and leaving dozens homeless.

Investigators determined those fires were intentionally set.