WATERVILLE — The Office of the State Fire Marshal is investigating the cause of a fire that damaged a multi-unit apartment building on Elm Street Sunday night, displacing 11 people.

“From our initial reports, we were unable to rule out whether the fire was intentionally set,” Waterville fire Chief Shawn Esler said Monday morning.

Waterville police detectives, as well as state fire investigators, were at the scene of the fire, which was reported at 6:40 p.m. and started in the basement of the building, according to Esler.

Sgt. Joel Davis of the Fire Marshal’s Office said just after 4:30 p.m. that the cause of the fire is still being investigated.

About 30 firefighters from Waterville, Winslow, Oakland, Fairfield and the Skowhegan Fire Rapid Intervention Team responded to the fire at the corner of Elm Street and Western Avenue.

Esler said that when firefighters arrived, there was smoke and fire coming from the building.

The blue, wooden building is owned by Gerald Tapley, 89, and Dorrance Richardson, 46, who were outside the structure Monday morning, surveying burned and blackened furniture, clothing, a television, radio and other debris that had been hauled mostly out of the basement and some from the second floor. An apartment and laundry room are in the basement, they said. The doors to the basement apartment were boarded up.

Tapley and Richardson said two dogs and at least one of a few cats that had lived in the 3-unit apartment building survived the fire.

Tapley said he and Richardson, who live on the first floor, have owned the building nearly 20 years and people come and go a lot, including visitors. The building will take a lot of work to fix, they said. Tapley said when the fire started, he ran out of the house wearing only pants and slippers.

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“I was lying down in my room and all of a sudden someone was yelling, ‘Fire!'” he said.

Richardson said the youngest person living in the building was a 5-year-old girl, who lived on the second floor.

He and Tapley stayed in a hotel Sunday night but were back living on the first floor Monday, despite the fact that there was no water or electricity in the building as it had been turned off.

Richardson said he was in a building next door Sunday when he heard a commotion and saw smoke coming out of the basement of his building.

“It’s going to cost some money to get it fixed,” he said.

A press release from the fire department says all tenants had left the building before firefighters arrived and the basement apartment suffered heavy smoke and fire damage.

“The first and second floors received minor smoke damage,” it says.

Esler said the American Red Cross is helping tenants with housing, clothing and other needs.

He praised career and call firefighters for their quick and efficient response to the fire. He also praised Waterville police.

“Our police department supported our efforts greatly with traffic control and use of the detective division during the investigation,” he said. “We really appreciate the assistance we received from police.”

Esler said no one was injured in the fire, which was extinguished by 7:25 p.m. He said he did not know if the building was insured.

Amy Calder — 861-9247

[email protected]

Twitter: @AmyCalder17

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