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Fire Officials: Four Lewiston Fires Deliberately Set
04/10/2014   Reported By: Susan Sharon

The State Fire Marshal's Office has joined an investigation into a series of fires in Lewiston overnight that left about two dozen people homeless. Investigators say four pre-dawn fires were deliberately set in the greater downtown area. They say a fifth attempted arson did not cause any damage. As Susan Sharon reports, the fires come almost a year after a series of similar arsons displaced 200 residents and left the city on edge.

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One of the four buildings in Lewiston that were damaged by fires that officials say were deliberately.

The first call came in just after 1:00 a.m. on Oxford Street. Fire Chief Paul LeClair says it was a small fire that was quickly extinguished. Two hours later the fire department responded to a second fire on Nichols Street in an abandoned single-family home that had been condemned and scheduled for demolition.

"While we were on scene close to clearing that incident, we received calls of a fully involved structure fire at 21-23 Howe Street right behind me here," LeClair said. "Mutual aid units assisted us and we were here for quite some time because, as you can see, the extent of the fire was very, very damaging, and the result is that these buildings also will have to be torn down."

There was also another small fire a few blocks away. It, too, was quickly put out. Investigators declined to say how they believe the fires were started. But they urged landlords and tenants to take steps to remove any trash and debris outside their buildings.

Lewiston Police Chief Michael Bussiere says at least 16 state and local investigators are working on the case. He says he'll also be taking unspecified steps to prevent other fires and keep the community safe.

"I think for me right at this point to get into the specifics of those measures would kind of countermand what we're trying to do," Bussiere said. "But I do want to reassure the public that we are spending additional resources to address those specific issues. And we ask the public to be safe themselves, and to report any incidents that seem out of the ordinary or people that are acting suspiciously."

"When there's sirens going and there's more than just a few, we wonder where's the fire, because, automatically, that's everybody's reaction lately," says Erica Daicy, who lives just a few doors down from where the apartment fire left several of her friends homeless.

She says it's heightened tensions in a community that was traumatized this time last year by a series of fires that charred several apartment buildings and made them uninhabitable.

Juanita Wade is one of the people displaced by the Howe Street fire. She says she's grateful that she was away Wednesday night, even though she lost all of her belongings.

"It's all burnt in there - most of it. I got some out - my purse and like three outfits, but all my clothes, my television. It's all in there. I didn't get any of that out," Wade says.

Wade says she expects she'll be able to replace her things, eventually. Meantime, she says she does have a place to stay and is relieved that no one in her building was hurt.

Photo: Susan Sharon


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