LEWISTON — Questions remained Wednesday night about the cause of the fire that left two dozen homeless on Birch Street the night before.

State and local investigators spent all day examining the fire scene but by evening, no cause was announced.

The Office of the State Fire Marshal joined local fire and police officials on an investigation into the blaze at 101 Birch St. Rumors that the fire had been set persisted across the downtown, but by nightfall Wednesday, police said the fire had not yet been labeled as suspicious.

The blaze started around 7 p.m. Tuesday, with flames coming from the rear of the building and two porches. The four-story gray property had 17 units, but only some were occupied, Lewiston police Lt. Michael McGonagle said.

Everyone made it out safely and there were no reports of injuries. 

The fire was under control by 11 p.m.


Police made two arrests at the scene Tuesday night for disorderly conduct, unrelated to the fire. Todd Shockley, 44, of 101 Birch St., was arrested at 9:30 p.m. at Bartlett and Birch streets and Jeffrey Pepin, 44, of 107 Birch St., at 9:24 p.m. at that address. Pepin also was  charged with obstructing government administration.

Chris Saucier, standing across the street from the building on Wednesday morning, said he’d moved into an apartment on the second floor in February and was worried that it was only blocks away from one of several fires last year.

Saucier, who is partially deaf, said he was home with his girlfriend when a neighbor from the third floor ran downstairs, yelling, “Fire! Get everybody out!”

“If my girlfriend hadn’t been there, I’d still be in the apartment when it was going up,” he said.

He lost a kitten and everything he’d owned.

“I’m just glad my kids weren’t here,” Saucier said, emotional, clutching his sweatshirt to his face.


In city tax records, the building is known as 190 Bartlett St. It’s owned by Rockwell Investment Group of East Lebanon, Maine. The land is valued at $17,040 and the building at $191,440.

Jennifer Gaylord, branch manager for the United Valley chapter of the American Red Cross, said the agency helped 22 adults and two children from the building overnight. It stepped in with basics such as hotel rooms and money for food and clothes, and help replacing medications.

The agency typically helps 350 to 400 people locally each year, Gaylord said, but it’s been seeing more need than average this year, including 110 people in July alone.

“It’s not necessarily an increase in incidents; the increase is that more people are needing to ask for help,” she said.

The American Red Cross isn’t accepting physical donations but The Root Cellar is keeping a list of people with extra items, such as beds, and sharing the list with fire victims to match the donations with the needs.

“The idea is pretty simple,” Lewiston Director Joel Furrow said. “‘Hey, this is what I have that I’d love to give.’ Once they find a place to land in the next couple days, we’re able to say, ‘Hey, this is what’s available, would you be interested?'”


The Root Cellar has a van and can help pick up donations when there is a match.

“One of the things we learned last time was the inefficiency of storing things,” he said.

Fire victims are in need of items such as silverware, plates and furniture. The Root Cellar, which is a block from the fire at 89 Birch St., was also accepting gift cards for fire victims.

“Starting your life over is a big deal,” Furrow said. “It’s a nice opportunity giving dignity in this situation, ‘You get what you need.'”

To get on The Root Cellar’s Give List, visit its website at www.therootcellarlew.org or call 782-3659.

Financial donations can also be made to the Red Cross at its new address, 475 Pleasant St., Suite 25, in Lewiston.


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