AUGUSTA — More than a dozen people, including at least three young children, were left homeless Tuesday afternoon by a fire that destroyed the roof and upper floors of an old Penobscot Street apartment building.
No one was injured in the fire, but the four-story apartment building at 1 Penobscot St., at the intersection of Washington and Monroe streets in the city’s Sand Hill neighborhood, was badly damaged, according to Deputy Chief David Groder, of the Augusta Fire Department.
A team of investigators from Augusta police and the State Fire Marshal’s Office interviewed witnesses and examined the building’s charred remains in an effort to determine how the fire started.
Police questioned a woman believed to have lived in the fourth-floor apartment, where the fire apparently originated, said Deputy Chief Jared Mills, of the Augusta police. The woman, who could be seen sitting in a police cruiser at the fire scene Tuesday, was released later to her family, Mills said.
No charges were filed and the cause was still being investigated, authorities said.
Officials from the American Red Cross said at least 13 people lived in the four-unit apartment building. The relief agency was making arrangements to house the victims in area hotels.
Firefighters rescued two dogs from the building, including a puppy. At least two cats were unaccounted for and it was unclear whether they had escaped from the building, Groder said.
The fire caused extensive damage to the third and fourth floors and destroyed at least half of the roof. 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. Property manager Corinna Miller said the building is insured.
The fire was reported at 12:10 p.m. Flames and smoke were pouring out of a fourth-floor, gable-end window when firefighters arrived.
“We could see it when we left” Hartford Fire Station, Groder said.
Flames 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, and firefighters used two ladder trucks to pound the fire with water from above.
Jennifer Chabot hugged her son as she watched smoke pour out of the apartment building. Chabot, who lived on the first floor with her husband and children, ages 3, 4 and 6, and their two dogs, said she was home sick with her 3-year-old when she heard banging on her door.
“The cop came in and said, ‘Get your dogs and get out right now,'” Chabot said.
She said she has lived in the apartment for about two years. Her family has renters’ insurance, but Chabot was more concerned about retrieving personal items such as baby pictures.
“I’m relieved I got my son and animals out,” Chabot said. “I’m praying that it doesn’t spread to our apartment so I can at least go in and get some clothes.”
The fire appeared nearly extinguished on a couple of occasions, only to erupt anew. Crews spent more than two hours dousing the flames and then another hour checking for hot spots.
Smoke from the blaze settled down into the Kennebec River valley and could be seen far away, from several surrounding communities.
About 10 minutes before the fire was reported, Farrington and her father left the apartment to go the east side of the river. She rushed back when she got a phone call about the building being on fire.
She and her father called their dogs’ names from outside the building as firefighters rushed up the stairs to try and locate the animals. The older dog was to first to make it out, followed a short time later by Farrington’s puppy, which was blackened by smoke but otherwise appeared to be in good health.
“We just left and it was fine,” Farrington said anxiously. “I’ve just been trying to get my dogs back.”
Craig Crosby — 621-5642