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Recent Lewiston Fires Revive Memories of 1989 Blazes
05/12/2013   Reported By: Susan Sharon

The big fires that gutted at least eight apartment buildings in Lewiston this month are not the only time the inner city has faced the trauma of dozens of displaced residents or the challenge of rebuilding. Two dozen years ago a similar string of fires had the city on edge. And as Susan Sharon reports two of the people affected then are central figures in the city's handling of the fires today.

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Recent Lewiston Fires Revive Memories of 1989 Blaz Listen

Back in 1989, Deputy City Administrator Phil Nadeau's family ran a popular grocery store at the corner of Bartlett and Walnut originally known as Nadeau's Market, and later, Friends' Deli. They also owned other buildngs in the neighborhood.

The deli is no longer there, but the location is less than a block from where two recent fires broke out and left dozens of people homeless. Surveying the scene earlier this week, Nadeau recalled how in 1989 it was the scene of another big fire that destroyed his family's business.

"It was a tough year. Tough year for my family. Tough year for a lot of families," he says. "That fire took four buildings, damaged that one over there and that displaced about 40 people in that fire. The building ended up collapsing on itself and almost injured and probably almost killed a couple of firemen. It was a pretty scary fire."

The fire marked the beginning of a string of arsons that rattled the city of Lewiston that year. For a long time Nadeau and his parents assumed that the first fire had started in their building by accident. And then, six years later there was a startling development.

"Strangely enough, months before the statute of limitations came up, then Police Officer MacDonad - I can't remember what his grade was - whether it was Detective or Sergeant - they made an arrest," he says. "They arrested someone for starting the fire. It was arson."

Police Officer MacDonald is Robert MacDonald, the current mayor of Lewiston. Both men joined Gov. Paul LePage on his visit to the fire scene this week. And both are involved in renewed efforts to crack down on nuisance properties in the area.
At least one of the recent fires was started in a condemned building, one of about 70 in the city. Mayor MacDonald may no longer have arrest powers, but he says the city is serious about getting tough with landlords who don't follow the law.

"They're gonna start taking care of their property, OK?" he says. "If we go back to that house x number of times during a month, then these people are going to be cited. They're going to be fined."

Two 12-year-old boys have been arrested separately in connection with two of the fires. Both are scheduled to be formally charged on Monday afternoon. Also on Monday, between 5:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. in Kennedy Park there will be a gathering for "community healing" after the fires.

Deputy City Administrator Phil Nadeau says both he and his parents understand what fire victims are going through. Nearly 25 years after they were burned out, the memory is still fresh in their minds.


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