Fear spreads after another Lewiston fire

LEWISTON — Lance Murphy bought renter's insurance for the first time in his life last week, after a devastating fire downtown left 75 people homeless.

He lives on Horton Street, across from properties that burned Monday. Murphy was already planning to move and leave the city in a few months. Before last week, it was reluctantly.

He nodded as his neighbor described three fires in a week as too close to home.

"Everybody's saying that," Murphy said. "I didn't want to move out of Lewiston — now I do."

After three major fires, there is worry, fear and rumor downtown. About the two arrested 12-year-olds covering for the real culprits. About whose street is next. And they fear there will be a next.

On Monday morning, "My son woke up, 'Mom, Dad, is our place going up, too?'" said Elizabeth Scott, who lives on Main Street. "He's scared, he's crying. He's 13."

Scott's son didn't want to go back to bed. "My husband had to calm him down to reassure him it was OK."

Wesley Stover, a Sun Journal newspaper carrier who lives on Knox Street, said he was nervous about the idea of being seen leaving a building in the early morning hours for a routine delivery and then having it catch fire.

"I walk out, who's to blame?" he said. "This town is going to H-E-double-hockey sticks."

He was trying to organize a neighborhood watch around Knox Street. Stover was also weighing whether to move.

Pauline Griffin lives four buildings down from Friday's Pierce Street fire. She's been there three years and has a 5-year-old son. She contacted the Auburn Housing Authority to ask about any openings on the other side of the river.

To stop the fires, she'd like to see someone tear down all the empty and condemned buildings.

"We've got one across the street from us, right on the corner," Griffin said. "Someone could easily get in there. I don't feel safe. I feel like, 'What's next?' I hope it stops."

Karen Doucette's mother had started encouraging her to move to New Hampshire. She lives on Horton Street, close to Monday's fire.

"I take sleeping medication and I didn't hear a thing," Doucette said. That spooked her.

Connie Tardif of Horton Street was born and raised in Lewiston. She woke Monday to find her living room lit up by flames from the next building over. Firefighters told her to leave her apartment at 3 a.m. and she'd been awake since. By afternoon, she was allowed back in, but it was so smoky she said she'd rather be outside.

She'd lived there seven years.

"I'm looking for another place, seriously," Tardif said. She pointed to the burnt buildings on Bartlett Street. "That's the last straw right there."

The owner of Great Falls Property Management, Kristina Bennett, said Monday that she'd been "bombarded with phone calls."

"I probably have in Lewiston a 6 or 7 percent vacancy rate. We do fairly well," Bennett said. "But if you look at Facebook today, everybody wants to move out of Lewiston. People are canceling showings. Everybody's scared. We're trying to tackle how to help people not be scared."

Great Falls Property Management was sending teams of workers to go building to building, checking them to ensure they were secure, that debris was not on porches and in yards. The company is also looking into installing surveillance cameras on its buildings, Bennett said.

Eric Lynes of the local American Red Cross, working at the Lewiston High School emergency shelter, said he got the sense from talking to people that three major fires happening by accident would be cause enough for alarm, but suspecting the fires may have been arson, purposely set, is even more disturbing.  

Linda Twitchell, who lives in Healey Terrace on Ash Street, had an uncomfortably close view of the fires one week ago. She also bought renter's insurance last week.

"You don't sleep but you're tired," she said describing how she felt. "The police, the firefighters, the Salvation Army, the Red Cross — if I'm tired, I can't imagine how they're feeling."

She'd thought about leaving the downtown, "but I'm not going anywhere," Twitchell said. "We shouldn't have to move."

Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Donna Locklear talks about how she does not feel safe in Lewiston anymore while hanging out with family and friends on Pierce Street on Monday afternoon.

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Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

Connie Tardiff sits on her friend's front steps Monday afternoon, across Horton Street from her home that is "too smoky to go back into yet." She said she does not feel safe in Lewiston anymore.

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Moving out of Lewiston??

I can't believe that these people don't realize that there are more places to live in Lewiston than the downtown area...maybe if they got away from the inner core of the city, they may see a different Lewiston..it's obvious that the kids that set these fires are unsupervised and have parents that don't give a crap what or where there kids are...I think the parents of these little (Blank) should be charged as well...

 's picture

totally agree

i live on the out skirts of lewiston and it is like day and night whenever i have to drive through downtown or go to an appointment in that area it really is like driving from a beautiful peaceful place to a run down junk yard i used to live intown but i did relize there is better without having to leave the area due to jobs and school. Kids nowadays seem to run things there is no disapline with these kids either parents are too scared or too lazy to do there job as a parent i know where my kids are at all times and heck yeah they complain that they have friends with WAY more freedom but you know what too bad for them the world is a different place now and my job is to protect my kids and try and raise them right its the parents who dont care or what not who make it harder for us parents who do care.I dont care what age your child is until they are 18 it is the parents responsabilty to set them straight and this just goes to show what happends when they dont.

Jeff Johnson's picture

living space

Linda, there really aren't more places to rent in L/A than the downtown area... Look at Craigslist or grab the classifieds of the Sun Journal. Look for 3+ bedroom apartments or houses for rent. 1) There aren't very many of them. 2) The ones that are available out of the downtown area start at $1,200/month.

Jeff Johnson's picture

Oh. Sweet. Jesus.

You wonder why Lewiston has such a bad reputation throughout the state? Watch the video. Do the videographers seek these toothless, hygene-challenged, grammar-assasins out or is this an actual demographic representation of Lewiston's residents?? I almost fear the answer...

Wake up

You would see this in any inner city in this country...the poorest of the poor live in these places, and it is not an indication of the rest of the city...the outer areas in Lewiston are beautiful, and if that is the only place you have seen in Lewiston, then that says a lot about you buddy..I hear this comment everyday where I work at BIW, but when I hear where they live, the problem is no different in their town..it's people like you and your ignorant comments that give this city a bad rap...grow up because there is scum in every city or town...they seem to congregate to lower rental areas because of the low pay in this state and can't afford anything else..low pay and no dental and health care=what you see on the news...

Jeff Johnson's picture

Wow, Linda... Defensive much?

Let's establish a few things: I've lived in Lewiston for the last 25 years... I've had relatives that lived downtown. My 4 children have been through the Lewiston School Department. I've coached, been a fundraiser, chaired committees, and argued with budget committees.

The whole point of my observation is that the media, in this case Russ Dillingham, has perpetuated the 'Dirty Lew' stereotype because it gets more comments and sells more papers. It's because of videos like this that your colleagues at BIW make those comments.

Russ and the other photo/videographers are doing their jobs, and doing them well, at the expense of Lewiston's reputation. What would you rather watch: The local color including a guy with neck tattoos and a fuzzy purple pimp hat, or a guy in a suit?

I'm proud and supportive of the city in which I live. I'm just dissappointed of how it's portrayed.

David Russell's picture

What kind of reporting is this?

This "story" belongs in a rag newspaper. It has no business in a serious newspaper. The S&J has slipped - again.


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