Workers demolish three apartment buildings destroyed in an arson fire Monday.
At an afternoon news conference, Lewiston Police Chief Michael Bussiere declined to release the boy's identity or many other details. He says 10 investigators worked long hours and interviewed more than 50 people before making an arrest in the fire that started in a condemned apartment building on Blake Street.
"It does appear that the fire started on the rear of the building on one of the porches, and we do have some information regarding that," he said. "But unfortunately, because it involves a juvenile suspect we're very limited as to what information we can, basically, release to you folks."
Six of the nine apartments in the building remained occupied, despite the fact that it had been condemned. And code enforcement officers had stopped by the address just two hours before the fire started to try to encourage people to leave. Bussiere says their visit was not connected to the motive for the fire. And he says the process for getting residents to vacate is not as easy as it might seem.
"And in one instance, I believe there's at least one resident in the building that got legal representation, and so there was a legal framework where attorneys were representing them on their behalf, and trying not to have them removed from the building," he said. "So it's not as easy as far as being able to declare these buildings unsafe. and then get that removal. There's a lot of steps that have to be put into place in that regard."
Officials say the building was declared unsafe because it had a leaky roof which caused a couple of ceilings in the hallways to collapse, and the rear porches had deteriorated and were covered with trash.
Two of the three apartment buildings have already been demolished. And on Thursday afternoon a pair of bulldozers were on on the scene of the fire, loading debris into a truck to be carried away to a hazardous waste site, since some of the material contains asbestos.
Investigators estimate the collective loss of the property at more than a $1 million. But the personal losses are also difficult. Debbie Libby's daughter and her three grandchildren lived in one of the buildings. She says they weren't home at the time of the fire. But her seven-year-old grandson, Noah, drove by his former apartment on the school bus.
"Noah told his mom, 'Momma, I saw our house. Our house is broken,'" she recalls tearfully. "So he saw it. It's heartbreaking."
Libby says her daughter and grandchildren are now staying with relatives. She was parked in front of her daughter's former apartment with her son who, at 12 years old, is the same age as the boy who has been charged in connection with the fires.
"I can't imagine," she says. "I can't imagine if someone came to me and said that, you know, 'This boy, this age, here, caused this' - I...I am without words."
Despite an arrest in the fire, Larry Guy, who lives just a few blocks away, says he remains anxious about what happened this week.
"It's sad to hear that it was a 12-year-old kid," he says. "The thing that makes me nervous is the fact that it was a condemned building and people lived in it. I have two condemned buildings that are right next to my house and nobody lives in them but it's open. You would think they would at least lock it up or something."
Debbie Libby says she's not relieved either. She remains focused on helping her daughter and grandchildren start their lives over. She says they need everything - the small and the big - from toothbrushes to a living room sofa.
Photo by Susan Sharon.