AUGUSTA — An apartment building fire Monday morning left five tenants homeless and closed a portion of State Street for several hours.

Firefighters battled high heat, exhaustion and stubborn, hard-to-reach flames as they worked to extinguish the fire at 23 State St., which is on the corner of Laurel Street. The fire was reported just before 11 a.m.

State Street between Bond and Bridge streets was shut down Monday morning and remained closed into the early afternoon because of the fire, which Fire Chief Roger Audette said caused extensive damage. The fire was extinguished, and State Street reopened to traffic around 1:30 p.m.

Donna Kendall, who owns the building with her husband, Steven, and lives across the street from the property, said she was outside when Derek St. Pierre, who rents the upstairs apartment in the two-unit building, came out and told her he smelled smoke. She called 911, walked up to the building to check it and found the exterior of the building hot to the touch.

Smoke quickly turned into flames at the two-family home, which city records indicate was built in 1900.

Todd Hough — Kendall’s son who lives in the downstairs unit with his wife, 9-year-old daughter and 16-year-old son — said his family and their dog were out walking at the time of the fire. He was at work at Tex Tech Industries in Winthrop when his mom called to say their building was on fire.

“There it goes,” Hough said as he and his mom watched flames shooting out the roof of the building. “Everything I’ve got, it’s gone.”

Hough said the building was insured and he has renter’s insurance.

Kendall said she was thankful her family was not home at the time and the upstairs tenant, St. Pierre, was able to get out of the building unharmed.

“It immediately just took off,” she said of the flames. “It just went boom and took off.”

An apartment building next to the home, about 10 feet away, was evacuated out of concern the fire could spread, Audette said. The fire appeared to be contained to the 23 State St. building, however.

A state fire marshal investigator was on the scene Monday afternoon to attempt to determine the cause of the fire.

Audette said later Monday a fire marshal investigator told him the cause of the fire was determined to be an overloaded electrical circuit on the first floor of the building.

Firefighters coming out of the building appeared to be exhausted and drenched in sweat. Some of them were covered in old insulation and other debris. They were given bottles of water, and a fan was running outside to help them cool off as temperatures outside the fire reached the mid 80s.

Audette said the fire was especially hard to extinguish because the older home had multiple roofs and other hard-to-reach places.

“Heat like this is a big deal when you’re fighting a fire — these guys are beat,” Audette said as firefighters fresh from the flames tried to cool off outside. “This would be a difficult fire to fight on a good day, even more so with this heat. They had to fight their way into the attic. We’ve had to rotate people in and out.”

Audette said no firefighters were injured.

Firefighters from Gardiner, Winthrop, Togus and Chelsea responded to the scene, and Hallowell and Vassalboro firefighters responded to fire stations in Augusta in case other calls came in. Audette said four rescue ambulance calls came in during the fire, and because most of Augusta’s ambulance crews were at the fire, ambulances from Winthrop and Delta Ambulance responded to them in Augusta.

St. Pierre, who lives alone and does not have a pet, said he saw smoke coming up into his sink, apparently from the downstairs apartment, so he went outside to see what was going on. He said all he grabbed as he ran out was his cell phone. He said he has family in the area who can provide a place for him to stay.

“I have family, I’ll be OK,” said St. Pierre, who said he does not have renter’s insurance. “It’s just stuff.”

The 23 State St. property is assessed for tax purposes at $71,600, according to city records.

Hough said a Red Cross representative said the organization would put his family up in a local hotel for the immediate future. Hough said he wasn’t sure where he was going to live after that. Neighbors of Hough offered their help and condolences as they watched the fire burn Monday.

Ward 3 City Councilor Patrick Paradis said his grandparents used to live in the home, and his mother and her brothers were born there.

“This was my neighborhood,” said Paradis, who went to the fire scene Monday. “This is family. It’s sad.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

[email protected]

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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