LEWISTON — A fast-moving, three-alarm fire destroyed three apartment buildings here late Monday afternoon, displacing dozens of residents and taking firefighters from at least six surrounding communities several hours to bring under control.

Several residents said they heard a loud explosion before the fire broke out.

No one was seriously injured in the blaze, which authorities believe began about 5:30 p.m. at 105 Blake St., a multi-unit duplex in a dense residential block near Lewiston’s downtown. More than three hours after it began, crews atop a ladder truck continued to battle flames.

About 75 people were displaced from the roughly 35 apartment units that were destroyed, and the American Red Cross was on scene into the night to help those people find shelter. The Blake Street building and another apartment building at 172 Bates St. partially collapsed.

“We feel 100 percent confident that we’ve accounted for all of the tenants,” said Lewiston Fire Chief Paul LeClair. Personnel from the state Fire Marshal’s Office were on scene to assist in the investigation, which will begin after crews extinguish the last of the smoldering remains, he said.

“We’re not doing entry right now; we just can’t. There’s still a lot of smoke,” LeClair said about 8:30 p.m. “The building debris is still burning.”

Hundreds of spectators gathered at the scene, and several blocks were cordoned off as firefighters sought to douse the flames from ladders and the ground.

The third building damaged was at Pine Street and Blake Street, a green Colonial that wrapped around the corner and held additional units.

Although the cause of the blaze was unknown Monday night, witnesses said the fire began with the sound of an explosion.

Felicia Day, 25, said she was at home Monday afternoon on Blake Street when she and her 5-year-old son heard a loud boom across the street.

“My son started crying and said, ‘Mommy, there’s a fire,’ ” Day recounted. She said that although the building across the street from hers had been condemned in March, there were squatters staying there.

Dave Clay, 45, who lives on the third floor of an apartment building on Pine Street, said he was napping when he was awakened by an explosion. Next to his armchair, a hand-held police scanner crackled out an address less than a block away.

“I heard it come across — 109 Blake Street up in flames,” Clay said, citing an early street address broadcast on the scanner. “I went flying down the stairs.”

Mykey Marquis was about to get into the shower, had removed his teeth and was nearly undressed when he heard a strange sound from the apartment building at 105 Blake St. “I heard snap, crackle and pop, and the entire back side of the building” was consumed in flames, he said.

Speaking outside a makeshift intake center set up by the Red Cross, Marquis said he fled from the building with only the clothes on his back.

“I don’t have no ID, I don’t have no money on me, I don’t have any underwear on,” Marquis said. “I lost my teeth.”

But more important, Marquis said, was making sure he could find the roughly 12 medications he takes nightly to treat HIV, a disease he has lived with for 26 years. “I don’t know what I’m going to do as far as pills go,” he said.

Others were luckier.

Harvey Brooks, a former firefighter who is now disabled, said he was at home at 172 Bates St. when a neighbor knocked on his door to tell him there was a fire.

Luckily, he said, he knew to stay calm. He collected some of his cats, and along with his fiancee, fled the building.

“Unfortunately I don’t believe our fire alarm worked in our building,” Brooks said. “I did the only thing I could possibly do, which is holler.”

Brooks said he was thankful no one was seriously harmed in the blaze. He said he was insured for the contents of his apartment. Still, there are some things insurance could never replace: the only remaining photo of his father, and the medals his dad won fighting in World War II.

“I don’t even have my insulin for tonight, but the Red Cross is here. … They’re going to set us up with everything,” he said. “Thank God for them.”

Staff Writer Tom Bell contributed to this report.

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

mbyrne@mainetoday.com