LEWISTON — An Auburn man charged in Sunday’s fire that destroyed a historic Auburn home denied Wednesday setting a fire near Edward Little High School a year ago.

Justin Knight, 33, of 138 Spring St. appeared in 8th District Court on two unrelated arson cases.

An Androscoggin County grand jury indicted Knight earlier this week on an arson charge from Oct. 22, 2017. He also was charged with failing to control or report a dangerous fire, a misdemeanor. Knight pleaded not guilty to both charges.

Arson is a Class A crime, punishable by up to 30 years in prison.

Judge Rick Lawrence set Knight’s bail at $75,000 cash or $150,000 real estate bond.

Two fires were set at the 10-unit rooming house at the 63 Academy St. early Sunday morning, according to an affidavit by an investigator at the Office of the State Fire Marshal. In that report, a fire was discovered in a trash can on a rear porch. A second fire, “which caused significant damage to the home was discovered on a separate porch,” according to Isaiah Peppard, a law enforcement officer at the state agency.

He concluded the fires were intentionally set.

A neighbor told investigators that she heard a man behind the Academy Street home after smelling smoke. She could see the trash can on fire, but couldn’t make out a human figure due to poor lighting. She heard someone dragging off the porch boards that had been stored there near the fire. The man answered his cellphone and began to yell, she said. The man then walked past her house, away from the home with the burning trash can. The man returned shortly after and walked past her house again to return to the rear of 63 Academy St.

The woman said she believed she saw a second fire coming from another part of the house, then saw decking of the home’s porch burning.

She called 911.

Two vehicles near 63 Academy St. also were damaged by fire, Peppard wrote. Both fires burned out before causing serious damage. In the gas tube of one, investigators found a partially burned dollar bill.

A woman who owned one of the cars told investigators that her granddaughters had encountered a “skinny and creepy looking” man wearing a hoodie and holding a bottle. He approached them from the front of 63 Academy St. The girls’ grandmother told the man to leave, but he argued that he didn’t have to.

Later Sunday morning, after his arrest, Knight told investigators at Androscoggin County Jail that he had been drunk and admitted to setting the fires at Academy Street.

“Justin stated that he doesn’t know what he is doing when he starts fires,” according to Peppard’s affidavit. Knight said he didn’t know what caused him to start the fires.

“Justin told us that he saw the cardboard and just lit it on fire,” Peppard wrote. Knight said the cardboard had been under the porch. He drew a diagram for investigators of the two porches where the fires were started.

“Justin stated that after setting the cardboard on fire next thing he remembered was waking up beating” his girlfriend. He also was arrested Sunday morning and charged with domestic violence assault.

Assistant District Attorney Nathan Walsh told the judge Wednesday that he was seeking $200,000 cash bail for Knight.

“The public safety risk of this individual can not be understated,” Walsh said.

Lorne Fairbanks, Knight’s attorney, had urged the judge to set bail at $1,000 cash, $500 cash plus supervised release or $15,000 real estate bond.

Knight, who was raised in Maine, returned two years ago from an 11-year stint in the U.S. Navy, Fairbanks said. Knight had worked as a roofer until recently when he’d lost his job after being jailed.

His criminal history includes a single theft conviction, Fairbanks said.

Walsh told Lawrence that the fire from a year ago “was set in very close proximity to Edward Little High School,” in the woods near the Snake Trail, which connects the Auburn school with Minot Avenue.

Other fires being investigated by the Auburn Police Department in the area where Knight lives might be linked to him, Walsh told the judge.

Bail conditions include no possession of incendiary devices and staying away from 63 Academy St.

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