The fiery death of a 9-year-old girl Monday in a Lewiston apartment that had no power and was being lit with a candle shouldn't have happened, said area landlord Mary Ann Norcross.
The body of Taylor McQueeney was found in an apartment where a candle left burning overnight ignited a bed, officials said. The flames destroyed two buildings, damaged three others and forced the evacuation of dozens of people.
In a story published two days before Monday's fire, Norcross, who owns several Lewiston-Auburn
apartment buildings, tried to warn about such situations, saying if a tenant's power has been disconnected, a
landlord cannot find out unless the tenant lets them know. She said Central Maine Power Co. doesn't notify landlords due to customer privacy rules.
The reason for that rule is to protect consumers' privacy, said Derek Davidson, director of the Consumer Assistance Division of the Maine Public Utilities Commission. However, the state rule does not prohibit CMP from disclosing disconnections to safety officials, Davidson said Monday.
John Carroll, Central Maine Power corporate spokesman, said Monday there wasn't much he could say about the tragedy. "It was a terrible thing. My condolences to the family," he said. "We'll cooperate with any investigation."
He declined to comment further on the specific case, but did say during the winter it's rare for CMP to disconnect power because of the hardship that would create. Different rules apply from April 15 through Nov. 15.
We really try and work with customers having a difficult time paying their bill," he said. Customers are referred to public assistance programs and a number of other programs available in the winter.
When customers fall behind "we send them bills and notices." Customers are offered payment plans or ways to pay with credit cards. "Before we disconnect we call several times and visit the building once or twice," Carroll said. "We do what we can."
The director of the Lewiston's Planning and Code Enforcement said renters using candles because their power has been turned off does happen. "But I don't think it's a significant problem," Gil Arsenault said.
Kim Wettlaufer, executive director of the Trinity Jubilee Center, an inner city social service program, said more are living in downtown apartments where the power has been turned off because they didn't pay the electric bills. His program helps feed the poor, but is not set up to help with utility costs, he said.
"I've been getting a lot more people saying their power is about to be shut off in the last couple of months," he said. "More are asking for help."
Lewiston Rep. Peggy Rotundo, D-Lewiston, said officials should know
when electricity is turned off for nonpayment when it puts others at
risk, including an apartment building with several units and other
buildings close by.
"With so many people losing heat and electricity in a terrible
economy, it seems really dangerous for people not to know," Rotundo
said. "I am looking into it."