RICHMOND — Five months and one day after fire damaged a Main Street apartment building, it was demolished Friday.

A backhoe was on site Friday morning, knocking the structure down and shifting the debris. Caution tape marked off the work area on the south side of Main Street to keep passers-by on foot and in vehicles clear of the demolition zone.

The fire was reported Dec. 25, not long after midnight, on the second floor of the multi-unit house. Two police officers — one from the Richmond Police Department, the other a corporal from the Sagadahoc County Sheriff’s Office — pulled one of the tenants from the burning building after finding him in his bathroom. The tenant, Wade Welner, who was bleeding and unconscious when he was taken from the building, also suffered from smoke inhalation. He was taken to MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta and transferred to Maine Medical Center in Portland, where he was in reported to be in critical condition later that same day, and upgraded to serious condition the following day.

A second tenant, who reportedly tried to get Welner to leave, was able to get out on his own. He was not identified at that time.

The investigation that followed showed that the fire had started in Welner’s apartment.

On Friday, Welner said that wasn’t how he had planned to spend his Christmas.

“I was lucky to survive, even with all the inconvenience,” he said.

Welner, 30, said he has memory problems and suffers from headaches.

All he remembers from that night is making a chimichanga in a microwave oven at one point.

“I still haven’t really heard from investigators what caused the fire,” he said. “There was talk I may have been shot in the head, but that’s kind of ridiculous. I don’t know anyone who would want to shoot me. If I shot myself in the head, how could I have gotten rid of the gun and set fire to my apartment?”

He said he was interviewed by investigators from the Maine State Police and the state fire marshal’s office.

“I think it was more likely that something exploded,” he said.

During his recovery, he said, he was unable to work and unable to get food stamps or MaineCare, but friends and his family helped out with donations of clothes and money through a campaign set up by his sister that raised nearly $4,000.

Welner said he now has a part-time job working for Great Falls Marketing in Auburn and has applied for a second part-time job in Freeport.

Residents and town officials in this riverfront community have been waiting for the charred building to be taken down for months.

“I’m pretty ashamed it was up there so long,” property owner Gary Nash said.

A sign advertising a Jan. 11 demolition date had been posted on the front of the building in early January, but the work was delayed.

“We were in the process of getting it cleaned up quickly,” Nash said. But apparently, the investigation into the cause of the fire was not yet complete at that time, and the work was delayed.

“It’s been a long, drawn-out affair,” he said.

A call to the Maine Department of Public Safety on the cause of the fire was not returned Friday.

When the site is cleared, it will leave a vacant spot in Richmond’s downtown.

Nash said the lot probably will be redeveloped. The lot has a view of the Richmond waterfront, where investments have been made by both the town of Richmond and the state of Maine to improve facilities.

He’s not sure whether it might be a commercial building or a combination of commercial and residential, but he would like the building to complement Richmond’s historic village area. In the short term, he wants to landscape the lot.

Jessica Lowell — 621-5632

[email protected]

Twitter: @JLowellKJ

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