Once again, the black stink of fire lies across Lewiston. Once again, media have come from all over. And on Thursday afternoon, they assembled like a flock of strange birds in front of a burned-out building, waiting for men of authority to provide some answers.
"Chief, the residents are telling us that they feel very afraid right now. What are you going to do about it?"
It all sounds familiar, doesn't it?
Only, there's a difference. Last year, when the firebugs were out doing their thing, fear ruled the day. This time, it's mostly anger, as witnessed by the groups of ordinary folks who came to the news conference with scowls instead of wide-eyed fright.
"This," said one particularly intense young mother, "has got to stop."
"I hope they catch these bastards," said a guy on a mountain bike, "and I hope they put them away for a long time."
Most of the comments I heard on and around Howe Street cannot be reprinted here. It's rage, by golly, and the pinhead lighting all these fires ought to be aware of it. The police will probably catch you sooner or later, arsonist, but you might worry more about the ire of your neighbors.
"I'll be watching, I guarantee you that," said one guy — one rather large guy — whose eyes moved constantly. "I'll be staying up all night and I'll be watching. That little (bad person) better hope to (gosh) that I don't catch his (criminal action)."
Rage, baby! It's often unwarranted but occasionally useful stuff. The men and women who live downtown are fed up. They don't like putting their children to bed at night while wondering if smoke alarms will give them enough warning of fire. They don't like wondering if they'll lose everything they have because of some deranged soul with a bad attitude and a book of matches. They're tired of the media using terms like "crime-riddled" and "dangerous" in describing their neighborhoods.
"I'm so sick of it," one woman fumed, just as the news conference was breaking up. "I'm so sick of living where these things happen and with people coming down here asking stupid questions."
The Lewiston police chief is no fan of it, either. One reporter asked him, in gaspy notes, if he was angry about this April Arson Spree, part deux. The chief refused to be sucked into the sound-bite trap, but at least a little bit of anger showed. Why not? There are other matters that need attending to around the city. A string of fires saps resources and makes everybody jumpy. The chief is a snappy dresser, but I don't get the feeling he likes going in front of the cameras all that much. Not for this crap.
My guess? They'll catch the culprit before more buildings burn. Maybe it will happen through an intense investigation involving at least three agencies. Maybe it will happen because the downtown folks really are tired of rampant fires blackening their spring. There are a lot of windows downtown, firebug. And from everything I've seen and heard, there will be a lot of eyes behind them.
Downtown Lewiston is on guard. It really is something to behold.
Mark LaFlamme is a Sun Journal staff writer with street cred. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.