AUGUSTA — Sarah Holland was in her smoky, waterlogged State Street apartment Wednesday afternoon packing DVDs in boxes as frayed posters of James Dean and Elvis Presley hung on a musty wall.

A day earlier, the four-unit building at 20 State St. was gutted by a fire caused by a space heater, leaving five homeless.

Holland was staying in the Comfort Inn on Civic Center Drive on Wednesday, but the 30-year-old was looking for housing while plotting a return to her job at the Subway restaurant on Bangor Street.

“I need to go back to work and have a place to live,” Holland said.

About 30 others in the same neighborhood are also trying to move on.

The State Street fire came on the heels of a Friday blaze that destroyed an 18-unit building at 36 Northern Ave., displacing 27 people. There were no major injuries in either fire.

On Wednesday, many victims of both fires were still staying at the Super 8 on Western Avenue with help from the United Way of Kennebec Valley. Spokeswoman Heather Pouliot said the group, through its donors, will continue to pay for victims’ rooms in the short term until residents can find housing.

So far, Pouliot said the group has raised about $25,000 with an overall goal of $35,000. Much of that money has been provided to victims in voucher form to pay for needs such as clothing and housing, she said.

On Wednesday at the Super 8, Alice Ingalls, displaced by the Northern Avenue fire, said finding new housing was her biggest concern.

“We’ve got to have a place to go,” she said of herself and the others.

Amanda Bartlett, director of the Augusta Housing Authority, said she knew of at least six families affected by the fire that have secured new housing and were due to move in by the end of the week.

“That being said, there are more that I have left messages for and tried to connect with at the hotel but do not have an update on,” she said.

Longtime residents of the Northern Avenue building, most of whom lost nearly everything they owned, were having varying amounts of success this week in finding new homes.

Ingalls was calling landlords, while Brian Lewis was waiting for a call back from the landlord of a Winthrop property he visited and hopes to rent. Deborah Boothby said she’d soon be staying with family and hopes to buy a house soon. While collecting items at the State Street building, Holland said she was scheduled to visit an apartment on nearby Bridge Street later in the afternoon.

The State Street building, owned by John Pedersen of Gardiner, was still standing Wednesday and wasn’t burned as badly as the one on Northern Avenue, but has been condemned by the city, said Rob Overton, an Augusta code enforcement officer.

He said a back addition appeared to be pulling away from the rest of the building, and the city also has concerns about the foundation. Overton said Pedersen has agreed to demolish the building soon, but a date hasn’t been set. Pedersen didn’t return a call seeking comment Wednesday.

Overton said the building had minor code violations. A building of its size should have had a fire alarm system, he said, and some areas didn’t have smoke detectors. Also, there was a single exit for two upper floors of the building, but Overton said that’s common in buildings of that age. Pedersen’s building was built in 1884, city records show.

“The main thing here, regardless of its condition, is that everyone got out safely,” Overton said.

Boothby, who suffered facial burns in the Northern Avenue fire while escaping her apartment with her 15-year-old son, Nathan, said the community support has been overwhelming.

The American Red Cross has bought bandages for her and Nathan’s burns, and Cony High School students raised more than $900 for Nathan and two students at Gilbert Elementary School. Nathan, a Cony freshman, received $640.

Ingalls hugged Richard Reed at the Super 8 motel on Wednesday after he gave her a donation.

Ingalls said she shops at the Augusta Farmers Market, where Reed, of Readfield, maintains a booth.

Scott Cushing, a 32-year-old Northern Avenue fire victim, walked into the Super 8 on Wednesday with a smile. He found another apartment, and he can move in this weekend.

“Now I’ll think of everything though, that I need,” he said. “But one step at a time.”

Michael Shepherd — 370-7652

[email protected]

Twitter: @mikeshepherdme


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