April 29, 2013: Arson destroys three buildings in downtown Lewiston, depriving 75 people of a place to live.

The fires are the first of three cases of arson within a week in the center of Lewiston, keeping residents on edge as police try to figure out who committed the crimes. In all three instances, the fires are set in condemned buildings, then spread to structures next door. In all, nine apartment buildings are destroyed.

Two adults and two 12-year-olds are charged in connection with the blazes. Charges against one of the adults and one of the juveniles later are dismissed – in the juvenile’s case because of a police procedural error.

However, Brian Morin, a homeless man, pleads guilty in 2014 to three counts of arson in connection to fires set on May 6, 2013. He is sentenced to five years in prison and 12 years of probation. The other juvenile pleads guilty in 2015 to criminal mischief and is sent to the Long Creek Development Center in South Portland until the age of 17.

The city had been blighted by abandoned, dilapidated buildings for several years before the fires. In the five years afterward, Lewiston tore down 63 buildings, including the nine that burned.

In some cases, banks that foreclosed on the loans of absentee owners didn’t even know what they owned.

“We had a bank that tried to sell a property after we had torn it down,” City Administrator Ed Barrett says.

Joseph Owen is a retired copy desk chief of the Morning Sentinel and Kennebec Journal and board member of the Kennebec Historical Society. He can be contacted at: [email protected]

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