Thursday, December 12, 2013
AUGUSTA — State investigators say they’re still seeking answers about fires in recent months that left more than a dozen people homeless at two Augusta sites.
Sgt. Ken Grimes of the State Fire Marshal’s Office said Tuesday that investigators have been unable to determine what caused a January fire that badly damaged a multi-unit apartment on Penobscot Street. Meanwhile, investigators still are looking into a pair of late fall fires that ultimately destroyed a home on Spring Road.
Grimes said the Spring Road fires, which occurred less than 12 hours apart at 283 Spring Road on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, are still under investigation. Officials previously had called the fires suspicious.
Grimes said earlier this month that the Jan. 29 fire that badly damaged an apartment building at 1 Penobscot St. started in a fourth-floor bedroom. He said investigators wanted to speak to an unidentified witness who was in the area before making a final determination on the fire’s cause.
Grimes said Tuesday investigators have been unable to identify and find the witness. The fire left at least 13 people homeless.
“At this time we’re going to leave it as undetermined,” Grimes said of the fire’s cause. He said the case would remain open, though the active investigation would be closed pending new information.
Nobody was injured in any of the three fires, though several people were in the building when the Penobscot Street fire broke out. Firefighters rescued two animals from that blaze.
The first of the Spring Road fires broke out around 12:30 p.m. Nov. 30. Firefighters quenched the blaze in less than 30 minutes, but not before it caused significant damage to the 1-1/2 story home, Augusta Fire Chief Roger Audette said at the time. Though there was little visible damage from the outside, there was significant smoke and water damage inside, Audette said.
Firefighters were called back to the scene around 4 a.m. Dec. 1. That time the home, which was engulfed in flames when firefighters arrived, was destroyed. Deputy Chief Jared Mills, of the Augusta Police Department, said at the time the fire was considered suspicious.
City records indicate Norman Nelson Jr. and Rebecca Westfall bought the 1,188-square-foot home in 2006. Neither was home when either fire broke out.
The Penobscot Street fire, which was reported about noon, destroyed the upper two floors and roof of the four-story apartment building and left the bottom floors with water and smoke damage. A woman who neighbors say lived in the apartment was put into a police cruiser shortly after the fire started. Grimes has said the woman was questioned and released later to her family.
Grimes said earlier this month that investigators had spoken to several people about the fire but were unable to find a final witness who he thinks has important information. The unidentified man was seen getting into a green Subaru about five to 10 minutes before the fire was reported, Grimes said, and he’s considered a witness.
Grimes asked anyone able to identify the sought witness or say where he can be found to call Augusta police Detective Jason Cote at 626-2370 or the State Fire Marshal’s Office at 626-3870.
Craig Crosby — 621-5642