LEWISTON — When burning embers burned a hole through the roof of her baby’s stroller, Natasha Cerrato fled the scene of Wednesday’s blaze. A moment later, she broke into a run, pushing 20-month-old Jonathan though the crowd.

Police began yelling at the hundreds of people who had gathered in an empty lot beside Bates Mill No. 5 to watch the Cowan Mill fire.

“There’s another fire!” an officer hollered, waving at the crowd.”Get out of here!”

A small plume of black smoke began to rise from Bates Mill  No. 5.

Many people ran up the center of Main Street. Officers herded the onlookers a block away to the east side of Lisbon Street, where police then began rolling out caution tape and directing the stacking traffic onto side streets.

“It felt like something from a movie,” said Cerrato’s friend, Tamesha Haas. The pair stood on a Canal Street sidewalk, watching firefighters put down the small, second blaze.

“My grandmother worked in one of those mills,” Cerrato said, shaking her head.

People had walked 10 or more blocks to gaze at the flames shooting dozens of feet high. They stood in a rain of cinders. Fist-sized clumps of ash fell as far away as Kennedy Park.

“We just followed the smoke this way,” said Doreen McKay, who was headed down Canal Street when she caught the Cowan plume out of the corner of her eye.

“I hope nobody was hurt,” she said. From more than 200 yards away, she could feel the heat from the tall flames. She watched as the roof of the old mill collapsed with low rumble.

“Oh my,” she said

Dozens of digital cameras and cell phones captured the moment.

Meanwhile, Nicole Esposito, stood with the crowd and phoned her dad. Her family runs Espo’s Trattoria, a restaurant located only a few hundred feet from the Cowan Mill.

Amid the screech of sirens, Nicole tried to describe the scene to her father.

“It’s insane,” she told him.

She shut down the restaurant when nearby electrical wires caught fire, she said. She turned off the gas, emptied the register and locked the door.

She also removed the umbrellas from the deck when falling ash began burning quarter-sized holes in the cloth.

“We’re going to lose a night’s business,” she said. “We don’t want to lose any more.”

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