Police said Monday they had tentatively identified one of two people who died in tent fires in Portland and Sanford over the weekend.

Portland Interim Assistant Chief of Police Robert Martin said that the person found early Sunday morning was a 31-year-old man who was living in the encampment alongside Interstate 295 north at Exit 7, but an official identification could not be made without a DNA match from an out-of-state relative. Sanford police had not identified the other victim as of Monday evening.

Martin said an autopsy was completed Monday but toxicology results are still being reviewed and the cause and manner of death could not yet be confirmed. He said the state fire marshal’s office was investigating the cause of the fire.

Spokespeople for the Maine Office of Chief Medical Examiner and the state fire marshal’s office said they didn’t know when those causes would be established.

The Portland victim was discovered by a police officer just before 3:30 a.m. on Sunday morning. The officer spotted what he thought was a campfire along the northbound lane of I-295 and found a body inside a tent that was on fire. The Portland Fire Department extinguished the fire and determined that the person was dead, Martin said.

Portland Fire Chief Keith Gautreau did not respond to questions Monday about the cause of the fire.


The death comes a few weeks after the city and state cleared a large encampment along Marginal Way. Many of the people living there have relocated to Harbor View Memorial Park. A date has not yet been set to sweep that encampment, but last week the Portland City Council shot down a proposal to halt encampment sweeps for the winter. At last week’s meeting, councilors listened to four hours of passionate public comment, some of which included concerns about the danger of fire with people using propane heaters to stay warm in the cold weather.

A homeless encampment at the Department of Transportation Park & Ride lot on Marginal Way in Portland is shown on June 6. Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer

As officials released an initial identification in Portland, those in Sanford had little information Monday about the identity or cause of death of the second victim. Police have said the deaths are not related.

Firefighters there responded to a wooded area near 1 Eagle Drive around 10:30 a.m. on Saturday where a man’s remains were found in a makeshift tent that was destroyed by a fire, according to Shannon Moss, a spokesperson for the Maine Department of Public Safety.

Maj. Matthew Gagne said the man had been staying in a yurt-style tent in a wooded area and there were no other tents nearby.

An autopsy of the man was scheduled for Monday, according to Sanford police.

There are close to 200 homeless people living in Sanford, many of whom are staying in an encampment or in tents scattered across the city, Gagne said.


A task force that includes police, city staff and representatives from local service agencies has been meeting biweekly to come up with solutions for the homeless population. The safety of people staying in tents as the weather grows colder is a top concern, Gagne said.

“We’re keenly aware of the fact that it’s wintertime and they’re using makeshift stoves to stay warm,” he said.

A warming shelter is scheduled to open in Sanford soon, but it won’t be large enough to accommodate everyone, and there are currently no available shelter beds in York County.

“There aren’t enough beds based on how many people we have right now who are unhoused,” Gagne said. “The biggest problem is there’s no availability anywhere for these people.”

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