RUMFORD – A third-floor tenant at the historic Hotel Harris set fire to his apartment early Tuesday morning, causing thousands of dollars in damage and temporarily closing a first-floor cosmetics salon, police said.

The 28-year-old tenant’s name was not being released as arson charges were pending a mental health evaluation and a stay in a Maine psychiatric hospital, Detective Lt. Daniel Garbarini said Tuesday morning.

“On his release, he will be brought into custody,” Garbarini said.

Water sprinklers in the room extinguished the fire before Rumford firefighters arrived.

“The sprinkler system did its job,” Hotel Harris building manager John Merchant said while waiting for insurance adjusters to arrive.

However, the water soaked three apartments on the hotel’s west side facing Congress Street. It also collapsed part of the ceiling of the Island Indulgence beauty spa and soaked carpeting, but firefighters managed to cover and protect about $10,000 worth of cosmetics, Merchant said.

“There was tons of water damage from the third floor right down to the basement,” Merchant said. “The fire damage started in his bedroom and everything below him was all water damage. It was at least $8,000 to $10,000 in damage.”

He said the tenant, who had lived in the apartment for more than six months, started the fire shortly after 5 a.m. Garbarini said it appeared the man used lighter fluid to start the blaze, then left the building.

Garbarini said the tenant walked to the nearby Rumford police station, where he met Sgt. David Bean just arriving for work.

“The suspect asked (Bean) if he could take him to the hospital and made allegations that he had been assaulted sexually and had either just started a fire or was going to start a fire,” Garbarini said.

Bean asked him to wait outside while he checked in to work and came back out to find the man gone, Garbarini said. Bean went to look for the man and then the fire alarm sounded at 5:20 a.m., he said.

Merchant said that after the hotel’s fire alarm activated, another tenant alerted 27 other tenants, knocking on every apartment door, advising them there was a fire.

Everyone went to the lobby where it was safe and they were allowed to return by 8 or 8:30 a.m. after firefighters from Rumford and Mexico made sure the fire didn’t extend into walls, Merchant and Rumford fire Lt. Keith Bickford said.

Later, Garbarini said he interviewed the tenant, who has a criminal history, and investigated the sexual assault allegations.

“The suspect told me he lit the fire and left. It does not appear that this is a sex case based on his own admission and lack of evidence,” Garbarini said.

A sign on the salon door indicated that it would reopen Wednesday.


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