AUGUSTA — Fire that destroyed a Northern Avenue apartment building Thursday likely started in the first-floor rear apartment, investigators said Friday.

Meanwhile, the city has asked the building’s owner to demolish the building soon because it’s unstable. Fire crews and other vehicles were at the scene Friday, but demolition efforts had not yet begun by Friday night.

Sgt. Ken Grimes said the fire at the two-story building at 146 Northern Avenue, which left three people homeless, started in the first-floor rear apartment, but “as far as the cause of it, we’re continuing to work on that.”

Investigators have completed their work at the building and control has been given back to the property owner, James Pepin, Grimes said.

Pepin has not returned phone messages seeking comment, but Augusta Code Enforcement Officer Robert Overton said the city has asked Pepin to remove the building as quickly as possible. Pepin had already contacted a contractor by Friday morning, and Overton hoped the work would begin soon.

“We do feel it’s an emergency,” Overton said. “We think the building is in danger of collapsing.”

The fire damaged a neighboring apartment building, melting the white siding and charring the exterior wall. Tenants in that building were relocated as electricity was cut off to the apartment during the overnight, Overton said. Those tenants were allowed to return to their homes Friday morning.

“We didn’t want anyone in a dangerous situation,” Overton said.

Two people were home when the fire broke out around 2:45 p.m. Thursday. One of those tenants was taken to the hospital for treatment of smoke inhalation. Augusta Fire Chief Roger Audette said that person, whom authorities have not identified, was treated at MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta and released. The second tenant was not injured.

Audette said firefighters checked the building frequently during the overnight for fear of the fire re-igniting. There were two flare-ups, one around 10 p.m. and another around 6 a.m., that were quickly extinguished, Audette said.

“There was a section of the building that collapsed on the back side of the house,” he said.

The original fire gutted most of the building. It took Augusta firefighters, with the help of crews from Togus, Chelsea, Winthrop and Gardiner, nearly three hours to douse the blaze.

Pepin bought the 2,266-square-foot building in 2000, and it was built in 1928, according to city records.

In 2010, a fire destroyed the attic of another apartment owned by Pepin, about 500 yards away on Stewart Lane. No one was injured in the 2010 fire, which probably was caused by an electrical malfunction in the attic, according to investigators at the time.

Craig Crosby — 621-5642

[email protected]

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