Last updated 4:49 p.m.
LEWISTON — A 12-year-old boy has been charged with four counts of felony arson in connection with Friday's fire on Pierce Street.
Lewiston Police Chief Michael Bussiere declined to release the boy's name, citing his age, until he has been formally charged in court.
The charges have been made in connection with a fast-moving fire that destroyed four buildings on Pierce and Bartlett streets late Friday night. One of those buildings was condemned.
The combined cost of damage to the buildings is estimated at $1 million.
The boy is being detained and authorities are expected to draft a juvenile petition, formally charging him with the crimes. He is being held at the Long Creek Correction facility in South Portland, police said. He could appear in court the first of the week, Bussiere said.
Police said they aren't aware of any connection between the boy charged with Friday's fire and 12-year-old Brody Covey of Lewiston, who was charged last week with three counts of arson in connection with a massive fire that destroyed three apartment buildings at Bates, Blake and Pine streets.
The estimated damage of Monday's fire was also $1 million and two of the buildings have already been torn down.
Bussiere said he didn't believe Friday's fire was a "copycat" crime.
He said other juveniles may be charged in connection with Friday's fire. Police believe others at least witnessed the incident, but are investigating whether others encouraged or even participated.
Bussiere declined to comment on how the fire was intentionally set and where it was set, but said there were "indications that an accelerant was used."
The fire is believed to have been started at a four-bay garage behind the apartment at 116 Pierce St., which was fully engulfed when firefighters arrived at the scene at about 10:10 p.m. Friday.
An estimated 100 people have been left homeless by the fire and roughly 50 of them have sought shelter at the Lewiston High School.
Additional police patrols will be checking the area for juveniles on the streets after curfew, Bussiere said. Parents are asked to know where their children are at all times.
"If you don't know where they are and they're starting fires, that's a problem," he said. "We don't want any more fires."
On Saturday, investigators from the State Fire Marshal's Office were working at the Pierce Street fire scene to determine the cause and origin of the fire, but were tight-lipped at an afternoon press conference and wouldn't comment on whether the fire started inside or outside of the garage.
Fire Chief Paul LeClair said the damaged buildings will be assessed for their structural integrity by city officials and the buildings' owners.
Police helped evacuate the affected buildings. The city's public works department helped manage water pressure at hydrants.
"So, a lot of people were putting their lives on the line," he said.
Despite the possible dangers, there were few injuries, LeClair said. A civilian fell and two elderly people were treated for smoke inhalation.
The fire spread from the garage to the outside of the back of 149 Bartlett St., an apartment building, which had working sprinklers inside, he said.
The firefighting equipment has held up, but the back-to-back fires have taken a toll on firefighters, law enforcement and investigators, LeClair said.
"It's been very taxing on all the personnel," he said. "We're all very tired."
Hours before the arrest was announced Saturday afternoon, investigators combed through the rubble from Friday's fire, leading a black Lab on a red leash through the area. The dog sniffed at charred timbers, then sat at a spot where a wisp of smoke curled up from the darkened debris that once was the back of the four-bay garage.
Investigators scooped bits of evidence in clear glass jars from the spots where the Lab had sat and brought the jars to their noses.
Tim Saucier spoke with fire investigators at the scene.
“I just saw two people bookin' it down that way,” said Saucier, who pointed down Pierce Street toward Birch Street.
Saucier had been visiting his girlfriend, Crystina Crowell-Gary, at an apartment building at 43 Bartlett St. when he saw flames out the window at about 10 p.m. Friday night.
“The siding of both buildings was starting to melt and go up in flames,” he said.
He said he started pounding on doors in that building to alert residents. He and Crowell-Gary said they heard no smoke alarms. She woke her 4-year-old son and whisked him out of the building.
Saucier tried to roust people from a building next door.
“When I was in one of the buildings, there was black smoke everywhere and I didn't hear a single thing except for people opening their doors and running out. That was it,” he said.
He showed the left shoulder of his blue and white windbreaker was melted from where he had gotten too close to the flames.
He said he told investigators that he could only see that the two figures running from the scene were roughly his height, about 5 feet, 10 inches tall and were either late teens or were adults.
A building next to the burned garage, 116 Pierce St., had been condemned and was apparently empty, a city inspector said Saturday.
A dark pool of water covered most of the area where the garage had been. Charred hulks of buildings showed the remains of melted vinyl siding that dripped down exterior walls.
Sidewalks were littered with blackened debris. Street sweepers and motor-powered brooms swept the area in an effort to make walking the neighborhood easier and safer.
Area residents basked in the sun on sidewalks and stoops, crowding behind yellow police tape that encircled the fire scene.
Police announced the arson charges at a 4:30 p.m. press conference at the Park Street station.
Bartlett and Pierce streets were closed most of the day Saturday; Bartlett Street was reopened in the evening.