LEWISTON, Maine — A black Lab on a red leash sniffed at charred timbers on Saturday afternoon, then sat at a spot where a wisp of smoke curled up from the darkened debris that once was the back of a four-bay garage.
Investigators combed through the rubble from Friday night’s fire that left more than 100 people who lived in four apartment buildings on Bartlett and Pierce streets homeless, frightened and bereft.
Several gloved investigators scooped bits of evidence in clear glass jars from the spots where the Lab had sat and brought the jars to their noses.
It was the second fire in less than a week within blocks of each other in the downtown area. A fire that destroyed three buildings on Bates, Blake and Pine streets on Monday forced 75 people out of their apartments.
Tim Saucier spoke with fire investigators at the scene.
“I just saw two people bookin’ it down that way,” said Saucier, who pointed down Pierce Street toward Birch Street.
Saucier had been visiting his girlfriend, Crystina Crowell-Gary, at an apartment building at 43 Bartlett St. when he saw flames out the window at about 10 p.m. Friday night.
“The siding of both buildings was starting to melt and go up in flames,” he said.
He said he started pounding on doors in that building to alert residents. He and Crowell-Gary said they heard no smoke alarms. She woke her 4-year-old son and whisked him out of the building.
Saucier tried to roust people from a building next door.
“When I was in one of the buildings, there was black smoke everywhere and I didn’t hear a single thing except for people opening their doors and running out. That was it,” he said.
He showed the left shoulder of his blue and white windbreaker was melted from where he had gotten too close to the flames.
He said he told investigators that he could only see that the two figures running from the scene were roughly his height, about 5 feet, 10 inches tall and were either late teens or were adults.
A building next to the burned garage, 116 Pierce St., had been condemned and was apparently empty, a city inspector said Saturday.
A dark pool of water covered most of the area where the garage had been. Charred hulks of buildings showed the remains of melted vinyl siding that dripped down exterior walls.
Sidewalks were littered with blackened debris. Street sweepers and motor-powered brooms swept the area in an effort to make walking the neighborhood easier and safer.
Area residents basked in the sun on sidewalks and stoops, crowding behind yellow police tape that encircled the fire scene.
Police called a 4:30 p.m. press conference to discuss the cause of Friday’s fire.