LEWISTON — Police have charged a 12-year-old boy with three counts of arson in Monday's Blake Street fire, Lewiston police Chief Michael Bussiere said Thursday.
No further arrests are expected. The boy is expected to be arraigned on the felonies by Monday, Bussiere said. He said the boy was interviewed several times by investigators.
During an afternoon news conference at the Lewiston station, Bussiere said the fire was intentionally set behind the apartment building at 105 Blake St. He wouldn't comment on the boy's motive or the manner in which the fire was set. Bussiere also declined to say whether the boy lived in the building, which had been condemned by city officials.
According to Bussiere, nearly a dozen investigators conducted between 50 and 75 interviews during the course of their investigation. The child, who Bussiere would identify only as living in the Lewiston-Auburn area, is in custody and will be held at a youth detention center, likely in South Portland, pending prosecution.
At 4:30 p.m. Monday, fire broke out at the Blake Street building and quickly spread to two other buildings, 172 Bates St. and 82 Pine St. As hundreds of people gathered to watch, it took almost four hours to get the fast-moving fire under control.
All three buildings were destroyed by fire, and the apartment buildings on Blake and Bates have been torn down.
Although no one was hurt, several pets were killed.
On Tuesday morning, fire investigators estimated it could take days to determine a cause and origin of the fire because of the extensive damage and the need to tear down the buildings that were determined to be in imminent danger of collapse. The investigation was limited to the Blake Street building, since investigators knew that’s where the fire started and the damage to the remaining buildings was tied to that original fire.
State Fire Marshal Sgt. Joel Davis said Thursday that everything investigators developed at the scene "has been pretty much corroborated by all the interviews we've done and everything matches up to what we thought had happened" based on physical evidence found at the scene.
During the day Tuesday, before the Blake Street building was razed, fire investigators were lifted in a ladder truck to inspect the buildings from the air because the buildings were deemed too unsafe to enter.
At one time, eight investigators from the state Fire Marshal’s Office were sifting through the debris.
The apartment building at 82 Pine St. remained standing Thursday but is scheduled to be torn down within the next week. One resident was permitted to go into the building Wednesday to retrieve his belongings; his first-floor apartment was deemed the only one stable enough to enter.
Police say that with extra officers on the streets as part of Operation Hot Spots on Wednesday night, the overwhelming topic of conversation was the fire and speculation about the cause.
The three-story apartment building at 105 Blake St. was valued at $191,340, according to tax records, and is owned by Watkins Property Management. The nine-unit building had been condemned and was scheduled to be auctioned May 22 as part of a six-property package of Lewiston properties.
According to the Portland auction house, Tranzon Auction Properties, the outstanding real estate taxes owed on the apartment building total $2,603; outstanding water and sewer fees as of last month were $12,531. Watkins has owned the property since 2003.
The other properties included in that lender-ordered auction are 122-126 Blake St., 202-204 Blake St., 16 Prescott St., 94 Knox St. and 102-104 Knox St.
The building at 172 Bates St. has been owned by Caron Property Management since 2009 and was assessed at $210,000. It had an "auction" sign hanging on the Bates Street side.
The building at 82 Pine St. has been owned by ASM Properties since 2006 and was assessed at $154,120.
Seventy-five people were left homeless by the fire, and the Red Cross and Salvation Army have set up a donation drop-off site at the YWCA of Central Maine on East Avenue.