WATERVILLE — A series of three large fires in Lewiston has others around the state thinking about the risk in their own communities.

Area landlords and fire officials say there has been an increased awareness about fires and what could start them after the ones in Lewiston recently left about 200 people homeless and destroyed 79 apartments.

“Absolutely every community has the potential for people setting fires,” said David LaFountain, fire chief for Waterville and Winslow. “There are multiple reasons for why that exists, and it’s what Lewiston is dealing with right now.”

In Skowhegan, Chief Tom Keene said he received two complaints Tuesday from residents concerned about two young boys with unusual interest in fire. He said that after the arrest of two 12-year-olds charged with starting two of the fires in Lewiston, his department is taking the Skowhegan complaints seriously.

Skowhegan is a smaller community — with a population of around 9,000, compared to Lewiston’s 36,000 — but its size does not eliminate the risk of arson, Keene said.

One of the most recent incidents he could recall involved Charles D. Miles, 19, who set fire to buildings at the Skowhegan State Fairgrounds in 1999.

“It’s hard to say why people do this, but I think hard economic times can sometimes lead to high arson rates,” he said.

According to the U.S. Fire Administration, a division of the Department of Homeland Security, other reasons why people commit arson include curiosity, vandalism, desire to conceal another crime, excitement, revenge and insurance fraud.

The department, which happens to be promoting National Arson Awareness Week, reported that juveniles are responsible for a large percentage of fires that are set intentionally.

According to the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reporting Program, people under 18 accounted for roughly 46 percent of arson arrests between 2005 and 2010.

Juveniles who have a heightened interest in matches, lighters or lighting fires should receive counseling or education about what fires can do, Keene said.

In Waterville and Winslow, LaFountain said, fire prevention programs in schools have helped to minimize arson.

“Arson is not a fire department problem. It’s a community problem. Setting up programs with counselors, education and methods of intervention can help catch at-risk kids,” he said.

Lindsey Burrill, association president of the Central Maine Apartment Owners Association, said residential fires can be prevented through supervision and education. Burrill, whose family owns about 300 properties in central Maine through its real estate company, Brownhouse Properties, said that in 34 years they have had four fires at their own properties, including a 1992 fire on Water Street in Waterville that was started by a 4-year-old child playing with matches.

“When tenants are there, I feel like fires can be prevented through education and supervision. Vacant buildings are more of a concern,” she said.

While Waterville has fewer large apartment buildings than Lewiston, parts of the city that could be at risk for arson or fire have vacant and abandoned buildings.

“We certainly do have foreclosures and vacant properties, and with that there is always a risk for criminal activity,” she said.

Rachel Ohm — 612-2368

[email protected]

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