WATERVILLE — Neighbors near the scene of an arson fire at 5 Elm Court, fearing their own homes could be targets, asked city councilors this week for extra police patrols.

They also asked for help in cleaning up broken glass and other debris around the old 2 1/2 story house that was damaged extensively late last month.

“We’re worried about what’s going to happen when snow hits,” said Wes Berry, who lives next to the house. “Will the roof hold up? Will it come down?”

Berry and other neighbors have been taking turns staying up at night to patrol the neighborhood.

They said they see and hear debris flying off the building, particularly when rain falls or wind blows. One neighbor, Chris Carpenter, is on oxygen 24 hours a day, and the smoke odor interferes with his breathing, he said.

The city has authority to take action when a building is deemed dangerous, but Code Enforcement Officer Garth Collins said Wednesday that the structure is not dangerous and the Texas bank that owns the building needs time to contact its insurance company and take care of the matter.

“We are involved and we’re sure that it’s not a dangerous building,” he said. “It’s burned out but not so bad it’s going to fall and kill anybody. A letter is off to the bank, explaining the situation, and they need to contact us for what they’re going to do with it.”

Fire Chief David LaFountain said the situation is complicated because the building owner, a bank, is in Texas; but with neighbors having approached city officials Tuesday and the issue being in the forefront of the city’s attention, things should move along, according to LaFountain.

“It may be a good idea to get started before winter, before there’s a snow load on that building, where it’s a close neighborhood,” he said. Elm Court is a narrow one-way street, and the houses are close together.

About 35 firefighters from Waterville, Winslow, Fairfield and Oakland worked in the wee hours of Aug. 25 to keep the fire from spreading to other buildings.

Neighbors say they are nervous because a few fires have occurred in the area of Elm Court in the last year or so.

LaFountain said none of those fires was declared arson.

“They all were accidental,” he said. “This is the only arson we’ve had in a long time. We haven’t had a large-loss arson fire in a long time.”

Still, neighorhood residents say they are not sleeping well at night, because the Elm Court fire remains unsolved and other arson fires have occurred in Lewiston and elsewhere in the state.

“This hit pretty close to home,” resident Randy Frappier told councilors Tuesday.

Sgt. Ken Grimes, of the State Fire Marshal’s Office, has enlisted the public’s help in solving the arson.

He asked that anyone who may have heard or seen anything in the days before or after the fire contact police or his office.

State Fire Marshal Joseph Thomas said Wednesday that 105 cases of arsons have occurred so far this year in Maine, compared to 162 for all of last year.

So far this year, 162 fires in the state were deemed accidental, 120 were undetermined, nine were caused by explosives and seven were caused by explosives recovery.

Thomas explained that the most common explosive incidents involve use of improvised explosive devices, such as soda acid bombs. They are dangerous and made with common household products, he said. Thomas’ office also deals with situations in which incidents result from use of products such as dynamite,  nitroglycerin and ammonium nitrate.

In 2012, 223 fires were deemed accidental, 166 undetermined, 26 from explosives, and 26 from explosives recovery.

“As we are still looking at four full months of activity remaining in 2013, I  suspect our numbers will wind up pretty close to last year’s,” Thomas said in an email.

Patricia Farnsworth, who lives diagonally across the street from the burned-out house on Elm Court, said she thinks the building is dangerous, and that’s why she and other neighbors approached city officials for help Tuesday.

Mayor Karen Heck thanked them for coming forward and asked City Manager Michael Roy if it’s possible to speak with police about doing extra patrols in that neighborhood.

“I made a note to ask the chief to do that,” Roy replied.

Meanwhile, LaFountain said it is the responsibility of the building’s owner to make it safe.

“Because the owner is in Texas, we didn’t have any information,” he said. “We went to (The) Home Depot to buy plywood and nails so we could secure the building. I did forward the cost to the owner.

We will try to work with the bank to see if we can get this taken care of.”

Amy Calder — 861-9247
[email protected]

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