LEWISTON — A blazing cigar or cigarette butt tossed on a back deck was blamed Wednesday for an early-morning fire on Pine Street.
Lewiston Fire Investigator Paul Ouellette said the fire started near a can for cigarette butts on the back deck of the second floor of the three-story building at 215 Pine St.
"And, we had some wind last night and that was enough to carry the flames up the second-floor deck to the third floor and into the apartment," Ouellette said. "From there, it rose into the attic at a rapid rate. The building was a total loss."
Six people were in the building when it caught fire, Ouellette said. All escaped without injury, he said.
The third-floor tenants were not home at the time of the fire, Ouellette said.
"Luckily, they had fire alarms and they went off and everyone got out," he said. "The second-floor tenant opened his back door to investigate, and it was just a wall of flame."
Smoke poured from the attic of the three-story tenement about 20 minutes after the fire was reported at 12:30 a.m. Later, flames briefly engulfed the roof.
Several neighboring apartment buildings were evacuated and electricity was shut off to the entire block.
Crowds of people, some told to leave their homes by firefighters, others simply unable to sleep with the commotion going on outside, gathered on the street near the building, watching billowing smoke soar into the air as firefighters tried to contain the fire.
One man who is ill was reportedly taken to an ambulance. Witnesses said he was not injured in the fire.
As bystanders watched, firefighters drenched the roof with water from multiple hoses. Sheets of water poured off the building and icicles formed on nearby power lines.
Firefighters from Lewiston, Auburn and Lisbon battled the blaze in the building that formerly housed the Champoux Insurance Agency. Smoke from the fire could be seen from Auburn. Several emergency vehicles were at the scene, including at least eight firetrucks.
Ouellette said the building was a total loss and the owner's representatives were discussing demolishing it. The building was valued at $102,060, according to city assessing records.
"It would cost a lot more to repair the building than it's worth," Ouellette said.
Officials at the United Valley Red Cross said three families were displaced by the fire and two of the families had been put up in area hotels.
"There is nothing more eerie than seeing a house that has burned," said Eric Lynes, emergency services director for the United Valley Red Cross. "What is apparent is that they have lost everything, not just food, shelter and clothing but peace of mind."
Lynes said Red Cross volunteers were providing counseling and helping the tenants find new living quarters.