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."
More fire coverage:
- Lewiston establishes enforcement zone in response to recent fires
- Two buildings destroyed, one damaged Monday in another Lewiston downtown fire
- Gov. LePage to tour Lewiston fire damage
- Lewiston's housing demolition program making headway
- Lewiston police help blind man out of apartment building threatened by fire
- Lewiston High School gym continues to shelter fire victims
- Little help available from housing authorities
- Experts say Lewiston fire spree is rare