Child charged with arson in Blake Street fire in Lewiston

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.

Arson ruled in Blake Street fire
Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Lewiston Police Chief Michael Bussiere, left, announces Thursday that a 12-year-old boy was charged with setting the massive downtown fire Monday night. The fire spread to two other apartment buildings and displaced 35 families, causing more than $1 million in damage. At right is Lewiston fire Chief Paul LeClair.

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.

Arson ruled in Blake Street fire
Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Lewiston Police Chief Michael Bussiere, left, announces Thursday that a 12-year-old boy was charged with setting the massive downtown fire Monday night. The fire spread to two other apartment buildings and displaced 35 families, causing more than $1 million in damage. At right is Lewiston fire Chief Paul LeClair.

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Comments

Bob White's picture

The city of Lewiston over the

The city of Lewiston over the years have had a lot of multiple building fires over the past years where these buildings have burnt flat or near. I haven't seen nearly as many of these building fires in other cities. I'm not saying other cities don't have building fires but no where's near as much destruction. I have been on a fire department for many years (over 20 years) close to the city of Lewiston and been to a lot of those huge fires from the past .

 's picture

Lewiston history

Lewiston is one of the towns that had the most mill era tenements that made it into the latter half of the century. Large groups of tightly packed buildings, none of them built with proper firebreaks, and older materials. The LFD has had to deal with that legacy for a long time. Similar large fires have happened in other mill towns over the years, so I'm not sure why you'd treat Lewiston like an anomaly.

One of the buildings was already condemned, and the others probably would have been rebuilt long ago, in a perfect world. A quick search on Google Maps will show you the street by street layout of that area. Personally I'm amazed more buildings didn't go up.

So let's be pleased that the damage was confined to property and some beloved pets. No deaths, no serious injuries. Property can be replaced. The LFD and other first responders did a great job at limiting the damage and making sure everyone got out safely.

Bob White's picture

Ok so Portland Augusta and

Ok so Portland Augusta and Bangor don't have old compact buildings in their cities. I remember a fire in a large retail motorcycle building that was of metal construction that was across from a fire station that burnt flat. This building was no more then maybe 10 years old. You may be amazed that no more buildings didn't go up but I'm not if Pine street wouldn't have been their then probably their might have been more.

Bob White's picture

Why isn't anybody up in arms

Why isn't anybody up in arms about the fire department to do a better job at putting fires out. Two blocks from the fire station and lose four building in the day time that to me is unbelievable.

 's picture

Interesting

Interesting that you can make that determination without knowing how it was set, how long it had been burning before it was seen, and ignored how close the buildings were to each other. Unless you're a fire inspector or a fireman who was one of the dozens that responded, I doubt you have a leg to stand on with those accusations.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

The top two floors of the

The top two floors of the firs building were engulfed in flames before the alarms even went off. That fires spread with amazing speed.

 's picture

Agreed.

That's why I feel outrage at the fire department is out of line. Huge amounts of smoke could be seen where I was in Auburn only minutes after the word went out about it.

The only way the fire department could have been quick enough was if someone had seen the boy setting the fire and called as soon as they did.

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Great point.

Great point.

JERRY ARIPEZ's picture

Judgement before the facts;

I will guess that once the facts are out, regarding the boys actions or mental health, being as they may, were ever intentional or just accidental from playing with fire. My 93 yo Great Grandmother lived most of her life in the Pine St apartment complex and you can't replace the great eloquent wood work and mostly personal materials that was lost. The largest most important fact was nobody's life was lost, the rest is materials that can be replaced, sadly so can the lost pets.

Accidents of all kinds happened everyday, just like the plant explosion in Texas. This is a huge cross to bear for a 12 year old, with his parents being liable and mostly for the poor tenants to bear and are forced to endure.

Those buildings are operated and owned by LLC corps and I foresee a larger, newer and clean apartment complex to be constructed for those that need the housing down the road. Those victims should be the first to have one of those rents when the time comes.
The learning curve is, the importance of having apartment insurance, can be beneficial at times like these, but most important about parents teaching their children, about playing with fire, how it can affect others lives as well.

All we can do as good concerned people is to send money to the Red Cross and make contributions at the locations for charitable donations.

 's picture

CHARGE HIM AS AN ADULT!!!

Charge him as a adult this little FIREBUG a) destroyed 3 buildings & b) displaced 75 people from their homes who now have NOTHING!... slapping him on the wrist by sending him to Juvi hall for 5 yrs will do NOTHING ... he perpetrated a adult crime & it needs to be treated as such!!!!

PAUL ST JEAN's picture

Agreed. I'd have clicked the

Agreed.
I'd have clicked the Agree button, but management, without any input from the players, decided to preemptively take them away. AARRGHH!!!

ANTHONY NAZAR's picture

Good police work

sad result.

I hope the child gets the help he needs.

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