SKOWHEGAN — A Water Street man faces possible arson and assault charges after a Monday morning fire in his apartment that sent him and a Skowhegan firefighter to the hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation.

Police Chief Don Bolduc and Fire Chief Shawn Howard said the man, whose identity authorities have not revealed yet, reportedly attacked firefighters just after 6 a.m. Monday as the ground floor apartment filled with smoke. The 11-unit apartment house at 378 Water St., opposite Coburn Park, was evacuated.

Lt. Kenneth Grimes, of the Office of the State Fire Marshal, said the fire was set intentionally in apartment No. 1 and that the occupant was taken to the hospital.

Dustin Tibbetts, the son of building owners Wayne and Becky Tibbetts, said the tenant in apartment No. 1 has been causing trouble there for a couple of weeks, but they have not been able to evict him.

On Oct. 17, Tibbetts said, the tenant broke all the windows in his apartment and a window in the apartment next door. Tibbetts said he put plastic over the broken windows and finally put particle board over the windows on Monday.

“He broke all the windows, and one of the other tenants called crisis, and they came down and said he wasn’t bad enough to be put into the hospital or anything,” Tibbetts said Monday afternoon outside the apartment house. “He’s been acting crazy all week; then he allegedly set the fire in there this morning.”

Tibbetts said the tenant has lived in the apartment for about a year and has been causing problems all summer long. He said he called authorities in the subsidized housing program and was told that there was little they could do without specific language in the landlord-tenant contract.

Tibbetts said it appeared that the tenant had assembled a pile of cornstarch, baking soda and other “white stuff” on the kitchen floor and set it on fire, creating thick smoke and flames.

“A firefighter had to get taken away to the hospital for smoke inhalation,” he said. “They also had a fight with him, and he tried stabbing firefighters when they first got here, when they broke in to try to rescue him.”

The apartment locks were changed later in the day Monday. The other units in the apartment house were deemed inhabitable and tenants were allowed to return after about two hours, according to Howard, the fire chief.

Bolduc said he and two other police officers responded to the call about a suspicious fire at 6:03 a.m. Monday. He said his department contacted the Office of the State Fire Marshal, which is now in charge of the investigation. The cause of the fire and the alleged assault on the firefighter remain under investigation.

As of late Monday afternoon, no charges had been brought.

Howard said there was light to moderate smoke throughout the building, with a concentration of heavy smoke in the ground floor apartment. He said firefighter Ty Strout and Capt. Mike Savage entered the building and found the occupant in the bathroom.

“As they removed him, he became combative and did try to assault both of them,” he said. “They were able to subdue him and haul him out of the apartment.”

Strout was treated for smoke inhalation and released to go back to work, Howard said.

He said occupants of the upper floors were alerted to the fire by smoke detectors and woke up tenants in the other apartments and helped get them out of the building.

“That just goes to show how important it is to have working smoke detectors,” Howard said. “That early detection is the key to saving lives.”

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

[email protected]


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