Burning candle caused fatal fire

LEWISTON — A candle used as a light source, after electricity had been turned off for non-payment, caused a fire that killed 9-year-old Taylor McQueeney early Monday morning on River Street.


Nine-year-old Taylor McQueeney


Daryn Slover/Sun Journal
A Lewiston firefighter investigates a fire that destroyed a third-floor apartment at 52 River Street in Lewiston on Monday.


Daryn Slover/Sun Journal
A Lewiston firefighter rolls up a fire hose behind the apartment that caught fire on Monday.

Eric Kaiser/Sun Journal

Firefighters at the scene of the 4-building apartment fire on River St. in Lewiston this morning.

Siding on an adjacent Oxford St. building melted from the heat of the early morning blaze.

According to Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, a candle left burning overnight ignited a bed before quickly spreading throughout the apartment. The third-story apartment was being rented by Craig Austin, 39, who received minor burns to his feet from the burning mattress. 

Also in the apartment at the time of the fire, according to McCausland, were McQueeney's cousins, 18-year-old Nathan Cote and his brother, Justin Cote, 25. Neither man was injured.

Family members interviewed Monday evening by the Sun Journal said the Cote brothers were distant relatives of the young girl, who spent a lot of time with 18-year-old Nate Cote.

"I usually let her over there, she spent a lot of time with Nate," said McQueeney's mother, Rebecca Cote. "She really looked up to him like a big brother."

According to police, the men ran an extension cord from the second story to power a television and video games, but used candles for light, confirming what neighbors had previously reported.

McQueeney lived across the street from that apartment with her mother, Rebecca Cote, and three younger brothers. She had been staying overnight at Austin's apartment.

 Rebecca Cote said that her boyfriend, Charles Barnes, allowed her daughter to
spend the night with Nate and Justin Cote. She was unaware that her
daughter was gone until Justin Cote came to get her early Monday morning shortly after the fire broke out because she was in another room when the girl left.

The fire was reported around 3:30 a.m., and McQueeney's body was found shortly after 8 a.m., according to the State Fire Marshal's Office.

"The firefighters, after she was found, they came by here really upset," said Robin Roslund, 53, who lives in the neighborhood with her husband. 

Crowds of people lined the street and yards on River and Oxford streets watching firefighters battle the fire that started at 52 River St., catching the neighboring 48 River St. building on fire and melting the vinyl siding off two other buildings. The roofs of the buildings at 48 and 52 River Street collapsed, hindering firefighters' ability to get into the structures. As many as 50 people were evacuated from five apartment buildings.

"It's been a very stubborn fire," Fire Chief Paul Leclair said.

Kenneth Ouellette of North Monmouth, owner of 48 River St. and an adjacent building, said seven families were displaced.

"We believe that the building that was most heavily involved is where the body was found," according to Leclair.

"There was certainly the danger of other properties catching fire because of the proximity of the buildings in what we call 'Little Canada'," said Leclair. "A very intense, very condensed tenement district."

At least one displaced resident agreed with Leclair. Levon Lawson, 30, lives in 46 River St. with two roommates. He was one of only two residents left at at the emergency shelter set up by the United Valley Chapter of the American Red Cross at Lewiston High School.

"The fire took out two buildings, but it could have taken out more," Lawson said. "Those buildings are definitely too close for comfort for me."

Lawson, like many who spent the day at the shelter, left Monday night to return to his apartment to determine if anything was salvageable. American Red Cross volunteers said all of the displaced residents found other places to spend the night — except for two families who were put up in hotels due to disabilities. Volunteer Yvette Lizotte said that the shelter would remain open in case anyone returned and would serve breakfast Tuesday morning. A team of four fire marshal investigators, led by Sgt. Joel Davis, were in Lewiston Monday to investigate the fires.

According to city property records, 52 River St. is owned by Rick Dade of Joliet, Ill. The building was valued at $62,640.

Ouellette's property next door was valued at $85,080.

Joshua Hanson, who lived on the first floor at 52 River St., said he woke up, smelled the smoke and heard fire alarms going off. He ran through the building knocking on doors to wake people, before escaping the flames.

Eugene Rand, who lived in one of the buildings damaged by heat, was evacuated with other fire victims but returned to the fire later in the morning to search for his pets. One of his cats woke him up around 4 a.m. Rand said his pet waking him was how he knew about the fire. 

 "I think a lot of people are sad that this had to happen," said Paul Temple, 48, who lives across the street. "We're all watching out for one another. This is inexcusable."

Temple was one of several residents milling about Monday night just outside the yellow caution tape blocking off the charred remains of the building.

The fire victims were initially relocated to the Travel Lodge, the former Chalet Motel, on Lisbon Street where the Red Cross started the intake process to get names, address and immediate needs of each family. According to several victims, the motel owner asked them to leave the common dining area because of their odor, lingering from the fire, which would have been disturbing to his customers who would be dining there.

"I couldn't believe they were making us leave," Rand said, "It was horrible upon horrible. We were already going through horrible."

Travel Lodge owner Kenny Barot acknowledged that he asked the group to leave, but he said it was because some of them had brought their dogs with them and he couldn't have dogs in the dining area. He said he asked them to wait outdoors or in the lobby, but did open a hotel room for them to use the rest room if needed.

Barot said the Red Cross had called in advance to let him know the victims would be arriving, but he was unprepared for the 30 or so people who showed up. "It was more than I was expecting," Barot said.

The Red Cross relocated the victims to its office on Lisbon Street, and later established the shelter at the Lewiston High School where cots were being set up for an overnight stay.

Visit sunjournal.com today for updates and video on this story.

View Larger Map
Sonny Libby, witness to Aug. 17 fire.
Interview with Charles Barnes, the boyfriend of the mother of the victim:

Joshua Hansen, witness to the fire:

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 's picture

Still waiting...

Taylor's family is still waiting for the police to charge someone in this case. She will not rest until justice is served for her life being taken so early. When will justice be served? This is just totally wrong...

God Bless you Taylor, we love you and will never forget you!

 's picture

I was disappointed to read

I was disappointed to read how the owner of the Travelodge treated the fire victims. I guess they should be grateful he allowed them to use one restroom. People don't need shelters when they are all cleaned up and looking pretty; most often they need shelters when they are at their lowest point.

 's picture

According to several

According to several victims, the motel owner asked them to leave the common dining area because of their odor, lingering from the fire, which would have been disturbing to his customers who would be dining there.

 's picture

He has an agreement to

He has an agreement to shelter. Letting someone use a bathroom is not "generous."

 's picture

Not everybody had dogs. He

Not everybody had dogs. He has a hotel, he agreed to serve as a Red Cross shelter, and he didn't do it.

 's picture

reading this its sick!

reading this its sick! always blaime someone else for adults being STUPID! cmp prob tried to work with these men but they wouldnt need to pay there bill now would they! they were getting it for free from the other apartment. if there would have been some type of bailout for them i bet it would have gone to a new game for there gaming system. this poor child had tp lose her life because 3 adult men who r so responsible were such cowards and couldnt help her. she looked up to these cousins of hers ( they clearly did not feel the same) i can just imagine the thoughts going threw her mind when she was left behind. i pray for her, i hope she did not suffer in anyway!

 's picture

I wonder why this little

I wonder why this little girl was the only one that didn't get out...

 's picture

My Family and i would like

My Family and i would like to thank everyone for their well wish's and condolences, I am the Aunt of Taylor McQueeney... we've been having a really hard time dealing with it. Our family is very close and it hurt me the most when i had to tell my four children ..especially my 11 and 12 yr old that their cousin has passed away in a fire.. that hurt the most... it really hurts to know that we didn't even get to say goodbye to her or even tell her that we loved her.. we told her many times but it just doesn't seem like enough... there has been many stories going around . most of them not true.. but the 3 men DID leave Taylor there.. no one bothered to grab her and take her away from the fire... 2 of them ran like cowards.. why would some one do that?? how can they even do it? like my oldest daughter Isabelle said.." Mom why didn't they take her with them? you're suppose to make sure the kids are out, your suppose to make sure we're safe and out of the fire.. its the first thing your suppose to do. Why didn't they help her".. it hurt me to hear her say that because i couldn't answer her.. i was at a loss for words.
Thanks you all.
Amy Cote

NANCY BARRY's picture

Condolences to the family.

Condolences to the family. So sad

 's picture

i am so sorry for your

i am so sorry for your loss... if there is any way that i can help, just let me know. my heart and thought are with you.

i think events like these just so how much energy companies should be willing to work with families-not only during the winter months. these are trying times for people and even more so for those who are trying to raise children. we do what we can do to survive or deal with situations at hand, never expecting the worse could possibly happen.

its no ones fault in this situation. do not put blame amongst yourselves.

 's picture

this is a very sad story for

this is a very sad story for all the families especially the family of this young girl. My sympathies and condolences to this family.

tron.....It was 4 buildings involved in a fire.

The body of a young girl was found this morning in one of the four apartment buildings that caught fire this morning in Lewiston, according to the State Fire Marshal's office.


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