AUGUSTA — An Augusta man who was injured seriously when his apartment burned Sunday morning had called the city just two days earlier seeking an inspection to address safety concerns he had about his unit.

John Murray told Augusta Code Enforcement Officer Gary Fuller that he was concerned about the safety of his apartment. Fuller said Murray called Friday to request the inspection, but the apartment tenant did not specify his concerns.

Fuller said he had planned to visit the apartment Tuesday.

“I had it on my calendar to visit his unit,” Fuller said.

The building was badly damaged by fire that investigators say started in Murray’s apartment and left 14 people homeless.

Murray, 62, a Vietnam War veteran, was listed in critical condition Tuesday at Maine Medical Center in Portland. Fire officials said Murray suffered burns and substantial smoke inhalation.

Investigator Ken MacMaster of the State Fire Marshal’s Office said Sunday that the fire started in Murray’s apartment and was cooking-related, but offered no additional explanation. The fire marshal’s office classified the blaze as accidental.

Investigators did not return a call Tuesday seeking additional comment.

The fire at 26 Pleasant St. broke out around 9:30 a.m. and left the eight-unit apartment building heavily damaged. By Tuesday, plywood covered the building’s broken doors and windows.

Ryan Chamberland, who bought the building in 2001, said most of the 14 people left homeless by the fire returned to the building Tuesday to retrieve belongings. Many are staying with relatives and friends, Chamberland said, and those who are not are staying at area hotels.

Chamberland said he is trying to help them find new apartments. “I’m trying to help my tenants as much as I can,” he said.

Chamberland, who spoke to Murray’s niece on Tuesday, said he had not heard previously about Murray’s call to the city or his safety concerns. Chamberland said he learned Tuesday morning from Murray’s niece that his longtime tenant had been in the process of moving out to live with her.

Many of the residents who were in the apartment building were sleeping when the fire was reported. All but Murray were able to escape uninjured. Tenants at the fire scene Sunday said the building’s smoke alarms functioned properly.

Chamberland said Murray has impaired vision, which tenants theorized might have hindered his ability to get out of the burning apartment.

Michael Murphy, who was on his way to work at nearby Plummer’s Funeral Home when he heard the call for help, used a chair to break a window to help lead Murray out of the apartment.

Fire investigators said Murphy’s action probably saved Murray’s life that day.

“Mike Murphy is a friend of mine,” Chamberland said. “I can’t thank him enough for doing what he did. I’m pretty sure John would have perished in the fire if it hadn’t been for Mike.”

Chamberland said two tenants moved in recently, but most have lived in the building for two years or more. He said the fire probably will cause him significant financial stress.

The emotional toll is already being collected.

“A lot of these people I’ve grown to have a pretty strong relationship with,” Chamberland said. “It’s surreal.”

Fuller said he hoped to visit the building later Tuesday. Chamberland, who owns one other apartment building in the city, said he was awaiting that inspection, and word from his insurance company, to determine whether he will rebuild.

“I’m kind of in a hurry-up-and-wait pattern,” he said. “I’m hoping to rebuild, but it also depends on what the (city) has to say.”

Staff writers Keith Edwards and Betty Adams contributed to this report.

Craig Crosby — 621-5642
[email protected]

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