AUGUSTA — The fire that destroyed the third floor of a State Street apartment building Friday night was caused by tenants in a second-floor apartment disposing of cigarettes in a plastic bag, the state fire marshal’s office found.

The fire, reported about 7:20 p.m., displaced 15 people from the apartment building and an unknown number of people from an apartment building several feet away.

Augusta firefighters and crews from neighboring departments fought the fire at 15 State St. for several hours, finally clearing the scene at 2 a.m., said Battalion Chief Jason Farris, of the Augusta Fire Department.

Investigators with the Office of the State Fire Marshal, who were at the scene Friday night and Saturday, determined the fire started because tenants in apartment No. 3 on the second floor were throwing away cigarettes into a plastic bag, Farris said. The bag ignited and the fire spread to a carpet, a mattress and a bureau, he said.

“When you throw cigarettes in a plastic bag on your carpet, it’s only a matter of time before it catches on fire,” Farris said.

The fire destroyed the building’s third floor and damaged the second floor heavily. The first floor, which has four units, according to city assessing records, sustained only minor damage, Farris said. Most personal items on the floor were salvageable, he said.

The next-door building, 13 State St., wasn’t damaged in the fire, but the city is keeping it closed until at least Monday because the building could be damaged if 15 State St. collapses toward it, Farris said. There are seven units at 13 State St., according to city assessing records.

One resident was taken Friday night to MaineGeneral Medical Center with unknown injuries and probably was released, Farris said. Firefighters helped evacuate everyone from the building, including a deaf person and a blind person, before starting suppression efforts, he said.

The American Red Cross is lodging the displaced residents from 15 State St., including seven children, at the Super 8 motel in Augusta.

“It’s a complete loss,” said Eric Lynes, response manager for the American Red Cross of Maine. “These folks are just devastated.”

Lynes said the American Red Cross was evaluating the displaced residents’ immediate physical and emotional needs Saturday, and it provided cards that would enable them to buy food, clothing and nights at the Western Avenue motel. Typically the organization provides enough money for three to four nights, so residents already have started trying to find permanent housing, Lynes said. The organization has helped the displaced people connect with city officials and other agencies to help find housing, he said.

“The magnitude of the disaster has caught the attention of many agencies in the area,” Lynes said.

He said Saturday afternoon he hadn’t yet heard about the other apartment building the city has closed.

Farris said the city’s code enforcement officers will inspect the buildings Monday and probably will condemn the building damaged by the fire. He said he was impressed that the firefighting crews were able to prevent the fire from spreading to the building next door.

People told firefighters they heard smoke detectors sounding, and a second exit was available to evacuate the residents, he said.

“It shows that — smoke detectors and a second means of egress — there are no two things that can help save your life more than that,” Farris said.

APEX Property Management in Augusta manages the apartment buildings. According to city assessing records, the buildings are owned by State Street Properties of San Jose, Calif., which has owned them since 2006.

Paul Koenig — 621-5663

[email protected]

Twitter: @paul_koenig


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