Fire experts,  including a nationally known “arson profiler,” say Lewiston’s series of fires is extraordinarily rare.

“It just seems so odd to have three fires and two arrests of 12-year-olds, independent of one another,” said Dian Williams, who founded the Philadelphia-based Center for Arson Research. The timing and the closeness of the fires surprised her. “I have been doing this stuff now for 28 years. We have interviewed a few thousand people, and I will say this is just odd.”

Child fire starters are, sadly, commonplace, according to one official.

More than half of all arsons in the United States are committed by juveniles, said John Hall, an analyst for the National Fire Prevention Association in Quincy, Mass.

In the case of the fires on April 29 and May 3, what makes them unusual is that they were separated by only four days, a few hundred feet and did similarly catastrophic damage, said Jerry DiMillo, the former director of the Maine Juvenile Fire Safety Collaborative.

The left about 200 people homeless.

“A 12-year-old starting a fire is a very common event,” DiMillo said. “A 12-year-old starting a fire and knocking down three buildings is not so common.”

The first fire consumed three apartment buildings. Brody Covey, 12, of Lewiston has been charged with three counts of arson in that fire.

The second fire burned four buildings. A still-unidentified 12-year-old boy has been charged in that fire. Both youths made initial court appearances Monday.

Police are investigating the third fire that leveled two more apartment houses in the neighborhood Monday morning but they have yet to determine whether it was started intentionally.

A list of experts, including several people from the state Fire Marshal’s Office, are working on the case, Lewiston police Chief Michael Bussiere said Monday.

“We have detectives as well who have specific skills and training when it comes to fire investigations,” the chief said.

Williams, who has been featured on the Discovery Channel and lectures about fire starting, agreed with DiMillo that the scale of the fires is unusual for juveniles.

Typically when such large fires are set, they are done by adult thrill seekers rather than frustrated children.

However, Robert Stadolnik, a Norwood, Mass., psychologist and author who serves as the president of Firepsych Inc., insisted that the scale of the fires is less significant.

“The size of the fire tells you nothing about the child,” Stadolnik said. Children may be lighting paper, sticks or clothing. “If that fire gets out of control in the first 10 seconds, then there are so many other variables that play. You can have significant fires like this, or with fatalities or burn injuries.”

Investigators and counselors will be searching for motives, he said.

“Often the reason why they struck the match or struck the lighter can be fairly benign. They were curious. Or they may say something like, ‘I was angry at my mom for sending me to my room so I was burning something of hers,'” Stadolnik said. “But that fire gets out of control and it’s off to the races.”

Experts agreed that the third fire, reported about 2:45 a.m. Monday, was unlikely to be started by a child.

Most are asleep at that hour.

“Here’s my gut. That’s an adult,” Stadolnik said. “You possibly have someone who’s living on the margins.”

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