Three months after fires, Lewiston recovering

Dangerous porches
Russ Dillingham/Sun Journal

The building at 91 Pine St. in Lewiston has moved up on the list of buildings to be demolished because of its unsafe condition. City officials will tear down the on-street porches next week. A City Council review of the fate of the rest of the building is set for August.

LEWISTON — City officials say they've noticed a distinct difference in the quarter-mile that makes up the downtown since a series of spring fires burned nearly a dozen apartment buildings.

Cleanup and recovery from the April 29 through May 6 fires are works in progress, said Jeff Baril, the city's police and code enforcement liaison.

"I think the downtown residents are more conscientious of the neighborhood and they're keeping stuff clean," Baril said. "They're trying. Then we have some downtown landlords making responsible moves and working with their banks to get stuff fixed up or to move on."

For Baril and other city officials dedicated to picking the area back up, the work continues.

"We are slowly getting a handle on things," Baril said. "It's going to take us years to really recover and get the housing market where it needs to be. But we are definitely headed in the right direction."

It will be three months next weekend since the first of three arson fires devastated the downtown. Arrests have been made in all three.

The April 29 fire destroyed buildings at 105 Blake, 172 Bates and 82 Pine streets.

It was followed four days later by a fire that started at 149 Bartlett St. and quickly spread to buildings at 110, 114 and 116 Pierce St.

Three days later, three more buildings went up: 114 and 118 Bartlett St., and 91 Horton St.

City officials responded by inspecting the area's vacant buildings, cataloging them and working to clean things up.

The city opened the landfill to downtown residents and landlords after the fires. They took 172 tons of trash to the dump between May 9 and June 7. That was trash that had littered vacant buildings and the areas between them, contributing to the fire hazard.

Building and fire inspectors cataloged every vacant tenement in the downtown, making sure they were clean inside and sealed securely to keep out squatters.

Baril said the effort to weed out the downtown's worst buildings continues. Last year, the city demolished 13 vacant tenements and is on pace to tear down another 12 this summer.

The city hopes to demolish buildings at 186, 139 and 115 Bartlett St. this week, and buildings at 44 and 80 Birch St. and 92 Walnut St. in the next few weeks. Buildings at 102 Walnut St. and 3 Shawmut St. are scheduled to go to the City Council for demolition review next month.

A building at 91 Pine St. will have its fate decided by councilors next month, too, but the city plans to tear down the building's porches next week.

"They are going to fall into the street if we don't act," Baril said. "We'll just do it and move on."

Inspectors now are going through occupied structures, to make sure they're in good shape, he said. "And the inspections continue. We are systematically inspecting these buildings. We do more each day."

Fire Chief Paul LeClair said people in the neighborhood are doing a good job of keeping an eye on things.

"They are aware of what's going on and they report any mischief they see," he said.

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Randall Pond's picture

I know We have to tear down for Safety

But, this is hard for me personally. in the first Fire on April 29, 2013, I watched a Building that lived in 10 years ago burn to the ground. It was Said and Very Hard. I was thankful everyone got out. I knew one of the tenants that lived there. She had moved in around the same time I was living there.

And now to read that 139 Bartlett Street is going to be torn down this week is also Very Sad. I lived in that building before I lived at 172 Bates. I was on the first floor with 2 roommates and I loved it as the kitchen was one of the old style ones with high old fashioned hardwood varnished cabinets and Wainscoting on some of the wells and Lovely hardwood floors that were kept up by the landlord at that time. Very Sad in deed to see the buildings come down. one by fire and another by being torn down. I will miss both buildings and the memories I had there of good friends and neighbors. I hope one day we can build new buildings in both places.


A long road

While the downtown area is in actuality a small part of Lewiston, it is important because it is the heart of our city. What I see there now is heartbreaking. It looks like the aftermath of a war. I'm glad the landlords, the banks and the people who live there are doing their part and that the city is stepping up its enforcement of the codes. It will take a long time in my opinion before that area looks anything like a normal neighborhood. Perhaps the city could look into grants or even offer tax incentives towards rebuilding both homes and businesses to speed up the process. Otherwise I think we are in for a long, expensive road to normalcy.

Gail Labelle's picture

Three months after fires, Lewiston recovering

Glad to see it going to move forward. My hopes that the vacant lots will be used for small family parks or more over 55+ housing and no more low income apartments. It would be a step up if businesses decided to build , if jobs could result from this. I maybe day dreaming but this city can turn around, we just have to change our ways in how we do things in Lewiston.

Kuddo's to the landlords and some tenants who are trying to keep their buildings and homes free of clutter. It is a start, have a ways to go, but at least it is starting.

Steve  Dosh's picture

In wake of fires, downtown still a work in progress

†hanks for the update
/s Steve <- The Ruins of Detroit . . .


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