August 26, 2013

Suspicious fire damages vacant Waterville house

By Amy Calder acalder@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

WATERVILLE — Officials are investigating the cause of a suspicious fire that heavily damaged a house at 5 Elm Court.

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A fire Sunday caused extensive damage to a vacant single-family house at 5 Elm Court in Waterville.

Photo by Jeff Pouland

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Waterville Fire Lt. John Gromek said today that his department is working with the State Fire Marshal's Office on the fire, which was reported at 1:22 a.m. Sunday.

The 2 1/2 story wooden house, built in 1900, is believed to have been vacant for about five years, according to Gromek.

State Fire Marshal Joseph Thomas confirmed that his office is investigating the fire, which by this afternoon had not been labeled a case of arson.

"We have not determined that it is anything other than suspicious as far as the nature of the fire is concerned," Thomas said.

The one-family house, owned by Deutsche Bank of Texas, stands tall on a narrow, one-way street that winds around a curve, turns into Belmont Avenue, and dumps out onto Western Avenue.

The private homes and apartment buildings on Elm Court are close together and the fire sent a ripple of fear among neighbors, who worried that it would spread to their homes.

They stayed up all night watching about 35 firefighters from Waterville, Oakland, Fairfield and Winslow at the scene. Residents of the close-knit neighborhood were still shaken this afternoon.

They said the vacant house was locked and a fence around it was locked.

Chris Carpenter said he was sleeping early Sunday and was awakened by the smell of smoke from next door.

"I could smell it through my breathing apparatus — I have a breathing apparatus for the night. I heard popping. I went into the bedroom and saw the fire so I called the fire department. They got here pretty quick."

The fire was so close to Carpenter's house that the heat broke his bedroom window and warped his venetian blinds.

Known as The Mayor among neighbors, Carpenter is on oxygen 24 hours a day. The fire caused his house to smell smoky, which also bothers his breathing, he said. Aside from that, the burned house is an eyesore and he and his neighbors hope it gets razed, he said.

"I just got my tax bill. Think if I brought it down to City Hall they'd give me a reduction, maybe? I mean, my property value just plummeted."

On the other side of the burned house, Wes Berry and Cheryl Jackson said their home also smells of smoke and didn't burn. Like their neighbors, they were up all night watching firefighters work and praying their house would not be damaged.

"I heard cracking and moved the curtain and I saw this orange glow on the back side of the house," Jackson said. "I grabbed the phone and I said, 'fire' and called 911."

Firefighters responded quickly, according to Berry.

"It was a fast response — very fast," he said. "They were here in minutes. They were nice, nice guys."

Jackson said she was frantic, fearful a propane tank on the side of their house would explode. She also was worried about their three cats, but they were OK.

Neighbors said people of all ages hang out in the area late at night, but they do not know if any were connected to the fire.

Patricia Farnsworth sat today on her apartment building's porch, diagonally across the street from the burned house. She said she stayed on her porch all night and into the day, watching the goings-on.

"My eyes were burning," she said. "I didn't go to bed until 7 o'clock last night. I said, 'It's too close for comfort.'"

Her neighbors, Heidi Warren and Josh Vogel, said the fire spread quickly and was frightening.

"It's scary," Vogel said. "There's no electricity in that house so it couldn't have been an electrical fire."

Meanwhile, Gromek said one firefighter suffered a facial injury when he was struck by a hose, but he did not go to the hospital.

Amy Calder — 861-9247
acalder@centralmaine.com

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