LEWISTON — A fire sparked by a woman cooking french fries before dawn Friday left five families homeless and one unit “charred,” fire officials said. 

Fire investigator Paul Ouellette said the call came in at 5:25 a.m. of fire on the top floor of 256 Park St., a six-unit, three-story tenement. The brother and sister living in the efficiency apartment fled out a front window.

The woman had been cooking oil on a high setting.

“Then she added french fries and fire erupted,” Ouellette said. “I’ve been trying to educate people: You shouldn’t preheat your grease on a high setting. It’s a recipe for disaster, not a recipe for french fries.”

Five of the six units in the building had been occupied. Smoke alarms went off, neighbors knocked on doors and everyone got out safely, Ouellette said, though it was a close call for that one unit.

“The brother was still in bed when the fire erupted, and it was quick,” Ouellette said. “She had all she could do to tell him to get out and the kitchen was fully involved. They both bailed out the front window onto the fire-escape porch.”

He estimated fire and water damages at $65,000 and ruled the cause accidental.

The building is owned by Bob McCarron, a retired Auburn fire captain, and was insured. Ouellette said McCarron intends to rebuild.

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