RUMFORD – Four investigators from the Office of the State Fire Marshal have concluded their on-site inspection of Sunday’s devastating fire, saying the cause is likely a person.
The Sunday morning blaze destroyed five buildings in the Virginia section of town, leaving at least a half-dozen people homeless.
Fire Chief John Woulfe said Monday afternoon that the blaze was apparently the result of “human cause.”
He said a human cause is strongly suspected because the fire began on the first floor of a vacant, multi-family Virgin Street building. Owned by Betsy Williams, it had not been occupied for several years and electricity was turned off.
“This was not an accidental fire,” he said.
Sgt. Joel Davis, of the Office of the State Fire Marshal, said late Monday afternoon that the fire was definitely human-caused, but whether it was accidental or intentional is not yet known.
He said his investigators will continue to investigate until the fire cause is determined to be accidental or arson. If the fire is found to be intentional, arrests will be made.
The blaze destroyed John Edwards’ home along Virgin Street, then moved to a barn and two-family home on Prospect Avenue owned by Faylene and Steve Austin. It then spread to the home of Roger Fleury, also on Prospect Avenue. All five buildings were destroyed. Several other buildings along Prospect Avenue and Virgin Street suffered siding or window damage because of the intensity of the fire.
Some items were salvaged from the Fleury and Edwards’ residences, said Woulfe. Vehicles, tools and snowmobiles that were stored in the barn were destroyed.
Williams called 911 and reported the fire at 3:26 a.m, said police Chief Stacy Carter.
He said Rumford officers Scott Mills and Adam Sage reached the fire first and immediately began evacuating a half-dozen or so people from their homes. He said the vacant building was already fully engulfed and could be seen from Fall Hill when the officers arrived.
Although firefighters from a half-dozen or so towns got the fire under control in about three hours, firefighters remained on the scene until Monday morning.
At about 9:40 a.m. Sunday, Carter arrested Edward Vidito, also a resident of Virgin Street, and charged him with criminal threatening and obstructing government administration for interfering with firefighters.
Carter said Vidito attempted several times to enter the building that was the origin of the fire because he said there were cats inside, despite being warned not to. Carter said Vidito was arrested for criminal threatening because he swung a bucket and shovel handle at Carter. He was taken to Oxford County jail where he later posted bail.
Representatives from the American Red Cross met with some of the building owners Monday. All stayed with family or friends Sunday night.
Woulfe said the vacant building was an example of buildings in town that should be boarded up or secured, a measure that would help prevent fires and other dangerous issues. He said the town has yet to adopt a policy calling for such safety measures.
He said, too, that the coordinated efforts of the Rumford, Mexico and other fire departments prevented the blaze from consuming at least six other buildings because the homes were immediately wet down. Most buildings in the Virginia section of the town are built very close to each other.
Four of the five buildings were almost immediately razed as a safety measure. The building of the fire’s origin was razed on Monday after the investigation was complete.
Davis said the Rumford fire was the largest fire his office has investigated since several buildings were destroyed by flames last December on Lisbon Street in Lewiston.
In Rumford, no fire as large as Sunday’s blaze has occurred for at least 60 or so years when several buildings on Waldo Street were destroyed.