AUGUSTA — Investigators on Friday were back at the scene of a Washington Street apartment house fire apparently triggered by lightning Thursday night.

The first- and second-floor porches were blackened timber, and ceilings and windows in the attached apartments appeared heavily damaged by the blaze. Yellow tape cordoned off one section of the building. Except for two investigators and one neighbor, the property was deserted.

All the apartment occupants were evacuated from the building without injury about 6:43 p.m. Thursday, shortly after neighbors reported a loud clap of thunder and then a close lightning strike.

Four firefighters battling the blaze were treated at MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta for heat exhaustion problems, and several pets of tenants died. The four injured firefighters treated at the hospital were from departments in Augusta, Hallowell, Winthrop and Togus.

Firefighters were on the scene until midnight.

“At the station we could see the lightning bolt hit,” said Augusta Fire Department Deputy Chief David Groder, and the fire call came in shortly afterward.

“We were on it pretty quick,” Groder said. “We were staffed up pretty well for events of the night.”

He said the property manager said 14 people lived in the six-unit building at 62 Washington St.

Robert Vigue, 70, was among the tenants.

“I was laying down and I heard the bang,” he said from a motel room on Friday. “People came in the kitchen and said, ‘Get out. The building’s on fire.’ I got on my scooter and got out.”

Vigue, who had lived in a ground-floor apartment there for eight years, said he’s disabled and uses a scooter as well as another wheelchair.

“I Ioved it where I was,” he said. “I had good neighbors and it had a beautiful yard.”

He said the Red Cross is putting him up in a local motel for three days and he expects people to help him find another suitable place to live, given that he did not think he would be able to move back into his apartment.

Meantime, his brother Richard Vigue, who lives nearby, was keeping an eye on the residence.

On Friday, Groder pointed to a utility pole that caught fire just south of the building, and said a blaze there apparently triggered all the circuit breakers in the apartment building.

He said he expected the rear of the 1816 building, which appeared largely undamaged, to be habitable once electrical lines were inspected and restored.

An investigator from the State Fire Marshal’s Office was expected at the scene as well.

Betty Adams — 621-5631
[email protected]