AUGUSTA — A Drew Street apartment building has been deemed unsafe and unlivable by the city following a fire during the weekend that displaced six tenants.

While the owner of the 23 Drew St. apartment building said he plans to repair all the damage caused by the Saturday morning fire, he can only start work when his insurance pays for the damage. That could take several weeks, he said.

Meantime, the displaced tenants, in some cases assisted by social workers, have been scrambling to find other places to live.

“Their housing situation… it’s very unsettled,” said Eric Lynes, director of emergency services for the American Red Cross’s Lewiston-based United Valley chapter. “It’s not one they’d wish for, certainly an inconvenience. But an inconvenience is better than being out in the cold.”

Lynes said he worked with case workers and others to help the six people find temporary housing.

The Red Cross put the tenants up in a local motel for the first three nights after the fire, hoping most of them would be able to return to their apartments — at least the units not severely damaged by fire.

But that option didn’t work out.

Royce Watson, of Augusta, owner of the building, said he plans to repair the building and continue renting it out, but no renovation or repair work will take place until his insurance company completes its work and pays him for the loss.

Watson said he expects that to take a few weeks and work would start as soon as the insurance is settled and a contractor is selected.

“The city condemned the building yesterday,” Watson, of Augusta-based Kennebec Realty LLC, said Wednesday. “Some of the units were not damaged, but we would be placing tenants at risk by letting them reoccupy their units.”

Robert Overton, a code enforcement officer for the city, said an inspector from Watson’s insurance company examined the building this week and said that smoke and water damage to the structure made it uninhabitable.

Overton said Raenae Moore, a health officer for the city, learned of the smoke and water damage and put notices on the building saying that it was unsafe, and occupancy is prohibited. The notice also informs the tenants that they have until Feb. 12 to remove all their items from the apartment and that anything left after that would be considered abandoned property.

Most fire damage from the blaze, which was reported just after 4:30 a.m. Saturday, was contained to a second-floor apartment. But the entire second floor sustained heavy smoke and water damage and the third and first floors also sustained some smoke and water damage, according to Augusta Fire Battalion Chief Steve Leach.

Leach said the fire started in the living room couch of the second-floor apartment, where most of the damage occurred, and it appeared to have been caused by improperly discarded smoking materials.

Watson has been in contact with his tenants but was not sure if all had found other places to stay. Watson owns other apartment buildings in the city, but did not have any similar units that were vacant where the 23 Drew St. tenants might be able to stay.

Watson said he was glad no one was hurt by the fire. He said he was not sure if his tenants, some of whom had already paid rent for January, intended to reoccupy their apartments.

The three-story, 3,900-square-foot, eight-unit apartment building and 0.16-acre lot are valued at $206,000, according to city assessing records.

A tenant contacted while staying in a motel in the days following the fire declined to comment. The other tenants could not be reached for comment.

Lynes said earlier this week that he worked with other agencies and caseworkers to try to help tenants of the building find other places to stay. He said he was confident the tenants with caseworkers had been assisted in finding at least temporary housing, and he understood other tenants not served by caseworkers were staying with friends or family.

Leif Dahlin, community services director for the city, said the city is helping tenants who receive general assistance from the city in finding housing.

Lynes advised all tenants to get renters insurance.

“The clients we assisted are certainly lacking resources, and our resources are limited, so we’re looking to our partners in the community to provide that additional support,” Lynes said. “This just shows disaster can strike at any time, without warning. You could be rich or poor; it doesn’t matter.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]


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