LEWISTON — Authorities have charged a 12-year-old boy with intentionally setting the fire in downtown Lewiston on Monday that destroyed three buildings, displaced 75 people and caused $1 million in damage.

The boy, whose name has not been released because of his age, is in police custody but has not been arraigned, said Lewiston Police Chief Michael Bussiere at a news conference Thursday.

The boy faces three counts of class A arson. Bussiere said it will be up to a judge to determine if the boy will be tried as an adult. He is expected to be arraigned by Monday at the latest.

“We were extremely fortunate that no one was either killed or injured,” Bussiere said.

Police and fire investigators interviewed more than 50 witnesses in the case, and spoke with the boy multiple times. At the news conference Bussiere released few details about how or why the fire was set.

Bussiere said investigators identified a motive through interviews with the boy, who is said to be from the Lewiston-Auburn area. Bussiere declined to say if the boy lived at the building where the fire started, 105-111 Blake St.


Among those interviewed were people who had gathered to watch the fire. Hundreds stood for hours as firefighters battled the flames into Monday evening.

On March 19, city code enforcement officials condemned the building where the fire began, although six of its nine units were still occupied when flames were first spotted on a back porch.

Code enforcement officers were in the process of moving the tenants from the property, which had been owned by Sean Watkins of LA Property Management in Lewiston prior to falling into bank ownership.

Watkins did not answer a call for comment Thursday.

Interviews with a former resident of the building where the fire began and information in documents released by the fire department still leave a question about whether the building had working smoke detectors at the time of the blaze.

The property was last given a routine inspection by the fire department in June 2010, when firefighters found a host of violations, including debris cluttered on the front and rear porches, which serve as fire escapes, in addition to other violations.


None of the building’s nine units had carbon monoxide detectors, and one hallway smoke detector was either missing or inoperable. Smoke detectors were apparently installed after that inspection, and debris cited earlier had been cleared.

When firefighters returned for a re-inspection in November, a second smoke detector was found inoperable at a different portion of the building. Upon a third inspection less than three weeks later, firefighters found nothing had changed at the property since their second visit.

Other questions have arisen about the working order of fire alarms in a second building that caught fire after the Blake Street property was in flames.

Harvey Brooks, who lived at 172 Bates St., which also burned, said his building’s fire alarms and hallway safety lights were not working. Brooks, a former firefighter, said one smoke detector had been painted over, and he said he had complained to the city’s code enforcement office four or five months ago after a second-floor grease fire drew firefighters to the building.

Deputy Chief Bruce McKay, who supervises the fire department’s safety inspection program, said the routine inspections are snapshots of conditions that sometimes change rapidly due to tenant behavior.

The fire department’s proactive inspection program attempts to reach every tenement building in the city, of which there are hundreds, at least once every two to three years.

McKay said the violations at the Blake Street apartment building are common.

“There isn’t a building out there without something wrong,” he said.

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