AUGUSTA — Deborah Boothby woke up to a ball of fire outside her window.

“Fire, Nate!” she yelled to her 15-year-old son. They bolted out of the apartment and jumped over a railing on the back side of an 18-unit building at 36 Northern Ave.

As they escaped, heat thrown from the home left them with burns.

Boothby wore a bandage over the left side of her face as she spoke late Friday morning outside the Super 8 motel in Augusta, where her son was resting in a room. He’s a freshman at Cony High School who moved to the apartment with his mother when he was a baby. He’s known no other home.

They lost everything, including their car, her wedding pictures and his school-issued laptop. Neighbors lost pets.

“You can’t get those things back,” Boothby said. “But we’ve got to thank God we’re alive. That’s all that matters.”


A massive fire that leveled the historic apartment building — built in 1845 as a boarding house for mill workers — was reported at 2 a.m. Friday.

All 23 residents inside the building in the city’s Sand Hill neighborhood escaped, some with help from police and firefighters.

Investigators Friday night said that the building had working smoke detectors and each apartment had two exits, which allowed all of the residents to flee the burning building, said Steve McCausland, state Department of Safety spokesman, in a press release Friday night.

Seven people, including the two Boothbys, were taken to MaineGeneral Medical Center for burns, smoke inhalation or hypothermia, said Augusta Fire Chief Roger Audette.

In all, 27 people are homeless after the blaze, which was likely accidental and started on the apartment’s back side on an upper floor.

McCausland said the State Fire Marshal’s Office investigation will continue through the weekend and that investigators plan to interview all of the residents.


Audette earlier Friday called the initial response chaotic, with firefighters and police helping residents escape the building.

“It was a big fire when we got here,” Audette said. “It was a bigger fire when we got everybody out.”

He said there were no problems in the building, owned by Yvon Doyon of Sidney.

Residents reported that they heard the smoke detectors, and Audette said there were no problems with the building.

Brian Lewis agreed, and he should know: the 64-year-old was a longtime resident of the building and showed apartments to prospective tenants on Doyon’s behalf.

“One of my laments is that I’m not going to find another landlord as good as that one,” Lewis said. “He was a good owner, he took care of his building, he did the work well and he was remodeling.”


The fire chief said schools on Augusta’s west side canceled outdoor recess because of ash that was dropped across the city. The ashes started a small fire in a nearby building owned by Augusta Fuel Company, he said, but it was quickly contained. Seven cars were destroyed on the apartment building’s back side.

The building was still smoking just before 9 a.m. — seven hours after the fire was reported — after crews stopped putting water on the top floor with a tower truck.

After that, an excavator tore the building apart so firefighters could get to remaining hot spots, nearly leveling the building, which Earle Shettleworth, Maine’s state historian, said was originally built as a boarding house for mill workers in 1845 by a company that ran a textile mill on the Kennebec River.

At that time, it was common for companies to rent rooms to workers for small fees, since they often came from across the region to work in mills.

On Friday, the fire knocked out power to homes and businesses on Northern Avenue and Mill Street. The community responded quickly, with the United Way of Kennebec Valley opening their Front Street warming center, which is open daily from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Spokeswoman Heather Pouliot said the United Way is accepting donations on behalf of fire victims and some clothing is available there for them.


Amanda Bartlett, executive director of the Augusta Housing Authority, said her office would hold a forum from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday at nearby Gilbert Elementary School to help displaced residents get housing.

Lewis was among the building residents staying at the Super 8 on Friday morning, where the American Red Cross was assisting them.

At his age and after 14 years in the building, Lewis said he wasn’t looking forward to starting over. He said he had the nicest apartment in the building, knew almost all of his neighbors and often got groups of them together for meals.

“It was a nice building,” he said. “It was my home.”

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652

[email protected]

Twitter: @mikeshepherdme

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