LEWISTON, Maine — Fire destroyed two vacant Bartlett Street buildings that were being remodeled on Monday morning and damaged a third apartment building on Horton Street.
It was the third major fire in a week in Lewiston’s downtown.
Firefighters were called at 2:46 a.m. and arrived to find the backs of all three buildings — 114 Bartlett, 118 Bartlett and 91 Horton — in flames.
The three properties are separated by a small courtyard.
“Given the intensity of what they found, I could understand how fire could jump,” said Fire Chief Paul LeClair. “This one really spread very quickly, much like the Friday night fire.”
The immediate concern was making sure it didn’t spread to neighboring properties, he said. The fire was under control by 7 a.m. There were no injuries, although some firefighters reported dehydration and overexertion.
The investigation into the source and cause was expected to get underway immediately.
A Fire Department source said the fire was believed to have started in a garage behind the buildings.
The number of people evacuated from 91 Horton St. was unclear, but LeClair believed there was a good chance those tenants would be able to return to the property.
The other two properties, twin blue-and-gray, four-story buildings, were a loss.
“They’re very heavily damaged and in my estimation they’ll need to be torn down,” LeClair said.
Everett Jankowski Sr., who lives across the street at 119 Bartlett St., said his roommate smelled smoke and called 911. When they looked outside, the Bartlett Street buildings were engulfed in flames.
“We watched all of it burn,” he said. “We watched the firefighters do a great job trying to put it out.”
Jankowski said 118 Bartlett looked like something out of the movie “Backdraft.” “[Fire] just rolled across the edge of that roof.”
He was “seriously nervous” after the recent spate of fires downtown. The buildings under rehab had three-bedroom apartments; fire could have left dozens of people homeless.
After Friday’s fire, his roommate told Jankowski, “‘I’ve got to get out of this neighborhood.’ Just two days later, all of a sudden, right across the street from our house,” he said. “It’s ridiculous. And I love Lewiston. We do so much to make it a great city. What do our residents want to do? Just knock it down to nothing? It’s bananas.”
According to city records, 114 and 118 Bartlett St. are owned by LJM LLC. The properties were valued at $102,600 each.
The building at 91 Horton St. is owned by David Langelier and valued at $116,460.
The latest fire is just blocks away from two earlier fires in the city. The first happened on Monday, April 29, destroying three buildings on Blake, Pine and Bates streets. Then on Friday, another fire damaged four buildings on Bartlett and Pierce streets.
Those fires left nearly 200 people homeless.
Two 12-year-old boys, each charged separately with multiple counts of arson in connection with the two fires last week, were making their respective initial appearances on detention hearings in 8th District Court on Monday afternoon.
Gov. Paul LePage announced he will travel to Lewiston on Tuesday morning to tour the fire damage, accompanied by Mayor Robert Macdonald.