Investigating fire's cause likely to be 'long process'

LEWISTON — Fire officials said Tuesday they were no closer to learning the cause of a blaze that swept through three apartment buildings Monday, displacing 75 people from 35 units.

Lewiston cleans up after massive fire:

Due to the extensive damage to the three-story apartment building at 105 Blake St., where investigators believe the fire started, it will be a "long process" as officials from the Office of the State Fire Marshal, along with Lewiston's fire inspector, prepare to comb through the charred debris for signs of the fire's origins.

First, heavy machinery will be used to move large timbers and other structural remains that pose a danger to investigators from possible collapse, Sgt. Joel Davis of the State Fire Marshal's office said.

Next, they will aim to zero in on the spot where the blaze likely erupted at roughly 4:30 p.m. Monday. They'll look for evidence of electrical wiring, candles, grills or any other indication that the cause might have been accidental, Davis said.

Lewiston Fire Chief Paul LeClair said fire spread to buildings at 172 Bates St. and 78-82 Pine St. due to "radiant heat and direct flame contact" from the fire at 105 Blake St.

All of the Fire Marshal's eight investigators have been involved in the investigation.

Owners of the three properties, which were all insured, have taken responsibility for the cost of demolition, LeClair.

Authorities said as many as six of the nine units in the Blake Street building had been occupied as city officials worked to find alternative housing for them since the building had been condemned due to a leaky roof, mold and deteriorated porches, among other problems.

Several of the apartments had still been occupied by squatters when the blaze ripped through the building. Authorities said they believe no one in the buildings that burned was injured and all were accounted for.

Police said they suspected illicit drug use in the building, but nothing that would cause an explosion or spark a fire.

LeClair said Tuesday firefighters fought in a defensive position from the start due to the heavy fire and smoke at 105 Blake St. They sprayed millions of gallons of water before they were done, getting help from Lewiston Public Works, which bumped up the hydrants' water pressure.

It wasn't until around 11 p.m., about six and a half hours later, that fire officials felt they had started to gain control of the scene and could start to release some of the firefighting units, LeClair said.

"It was a hard night, but everyone made it through," he said.

Police Lt. Michael McGonagle said detectives from his department were interviewing residents of 105 Blake St. in an effort to determine what kind of activities were taking place when the fire broke out.

Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Todd Gendron of Gendron and Gendron uses his excavator to demolish a burned building on Blake Street in Lewiston on Tuesday afternoon. Fire destroyed three buildings Monday, displacing 75 people.

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Courageous men and women

Under such overwhelming odds, what a wonderful job these people did containing the fire. A great example of team work from all the diverse towns and groups. Thank you for caring for your fellow citizens.

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