Lewiston & Auburn Firefighters battle 2nd Alarm Fire
AUBURN — Three teens from Germany are being credited with saving lives Sunday morning after running into a burning apartment building, pulling the fire alarm and knocking on doors to alert residents to a fire at Auburn Mall Apartments. "We have to do it. We don't feel like heroes," said Thomas Penschow, whose teenage sons, Mirco and Jonny Penschow, ran into the complex along with their friend, Leon Hagen, after yelling to him to call 911. "It's a matter of course for us. We're not allowed to sit there and watch and not do anything." Battalion Chief Dean Milligan of the Auburn Fire Department said three of the building's 24 apartments sustained significant damage in the 9:20 a.m. fire. He said firefighters had the blaze under control in about 35 minutes. More than 20 firefighters from Auburn and Lewiston battled the blaze for much of the morning. Milligan said investigators with the State Fire Marshal's Office determined the cause of the fire to be "improperly discarded smoking materials." A resident on the second floor put a cigarette into a 5-gallon bucket of sand on their porch. The bucket was right outside the patio door near the building and caught fire, which spread quickly to the outer wall of the building. Milligan said the third-floor apartment above the origin of the fire sustained the heaviest damage. Its occupant, Peggy Levesque, was taken to the hospital for shortness of breath and lost her dog and two cats in the blaze. Penschow is in the United States from Germany working on the Lockheed L-1649A Starliner restoration project at the Auburn-Lewiston Airport. His teenage sons and their friend recently arrived to stay with him part of the summer. The three were outside when they noticed flames on the porch of a second-floor apartment at 18 Plummer St. and yelled to him to call the Fire Department before heading into the building. "I thought they were awesome. I called them heroes. Their dad should be very proud," said Ricky Collins, who lives in the building across from 18 Plummer St. "Possibly there could have been some lives lost if they hadn't been there." Collins said she was in her apartment with her blinds drawn when a neighbor knocked on her door and alerted her to the fire. She said she was stunned when she looked out from her patio door to see flames shooting into the air in the building where several of her friends live, many of whom are elderly. Milligan said crews remained on site until after 2 p.m. in order to assist elderly residents needing to re-enter their apartments to pick up medications and other essential items. "Between the firefighters getting in there quick and the sprinkler system and the building appearing to be up to fire code, the fire stayed within the one compartment (of the building)," Milligan said. Milligan said the apartments with the most significant damage were the three on the street side of the building located near its center. The building has 24 units total, and apartments on either side of the three most damaged received just minimal smoke and water damage. Despite the lesser damage to other apartments, Milligan said all residents of the building were instructed to make other arrangements for at least Sunday night in order to give crews time to assess damages. The American Red Cross is assisting the displaced families. Early reports put costs at about $325,000, including the property damage and personal property loss, Milligan said.