February 5, 2013

Fire marshal seeks witness to Penobscot Street fire in Augusta

Unidentified man who left scene five to 10 minutes before the fire was reported is not a suspect, says investigator

By Craig Crosby ccrosby@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

AUGUSTA -- Investigators believe an unidentified witness could help solve the question of what sparked a fire that damaged a Penobscot Street apartment building last week, leaving 13 people homeless.

click image to enlarge

This photo show the damage to 1 Penobscot St. on Jan. 30, 2013, the day after it was heavily damaged by a fire. The Fire Marshal's Office seeks a witness who left the scene five to 10 minutes before the fire was reported, saying he is not a suspect but may have information that could help solve the origin of the fire.

Staff file photo by Joe Phelan

Sgt. Ken Grimes of the State Fire Marshal's Office said Tuesday that investigators are looking for a man they believe has information about the fire on Jan. 29. Grimes said authorities want to speak to the man before making a final determination about the fire's origin.

"He was in the area of the apartment building," Grimes said. "We just want to know what he saw."

The blaze destroyed the upper two floors and roof of the four-story building and left the bottom floors with water and smoke damage. Investigators say the fire started in a fourth-floor bedroom, but they can't determine the cause.

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 investigators have spoken to several people about the fire but have been 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.

Authorities have no other description of the man, but Grimes hopes someone may help identify him or that he will come forward to speak to investigators.

"He's not a suspect and he's not a person of interest," Grimes said. "He's just a witness."

The fire at 1 Penobscot St. was reported at 12:10 p.m. Flames and smoke were pouring out of a fourth-floor, gable-end window when firefighters arrived. The fire spread quickly, eventually breaking through the roof and shooting from an upstairs porch.

Firefighters from Winthrop, Togus and Gardiner joined Augusta crews, blasting the flames from all sides of the building.

City records show the building was built in 1908 and bought in 2004 by Randall Briggs, of Mariottsville, Md. It is operated as 1 Penobscot St. LLC, and property manager Corinna Miller said the building is insured.

Miller could not be reached Tuesday.

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

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