WATERVILLE — Two boys riding on one bicycle stopped outside an apartment building at 25 Water St. Monday night and one of them lit a match.

Therese Wilbur said the boy set two open books on fire and, seemingly surprised by the sudden heat, tossed them at the front of the house. The books landed on an old mattress on the porch and flames shot up.

Wilbur, 18, who lives next door at 27 Water St., said she watched in disbelief as the boys started laughing and took off.

“They thought it was hilarious,” she said. “They thought it was a joke. As soon as it ignited onto a mattress, they were like, ‘It’s on fire — oh my God!’ And they were so happy about it. A lady who was walking toward me was like, ‘Should I call the cops?’ I said, ‘Call the police, I’m going out back to see if anyone’s in there.’”

Wilbur alerted the only tenants of the four-apartment building and got them out uninjured. The building was gutted by the fast-moving fire.

Tuesday morning, as Wilbur was telling a reporter what she saw, an investigator with the State Fire Marshal’s Office confirmed that two juveniles were responsible for setting the building on fire.

“It was an intentional act. It was two juveniles who are not being identified,” said Sgt. Timothy York of the fire marshal’s office.

York said the two juveniles will likely face arson charges, but he didn’t know whether they had been charged yet. York said their ages will not be disclosed.

The fire at the building, which is across from the Hathaway Creative Center, was called in about 7 p.m.

Wilbur said she ran around to the back door and yelled for anyone inside, but heard nothing. A window burst from the heat and she covered her face.

“It was already all through the downstairs,” Wilbur said of the fire. “I ran to the side — that door was locked — so I kicked it in and screamed for somebody.”

Wilbur said she went inside to the second-floor apartment and found a woman, Barbara Dow, in her kitchen. Dow, who lived there with her son, 17-year-old Tony, didn’t realize that the building was on fire, though by the time they were leaving the apartment, flames had reached her living room.

As Wilbur helped Dow down the stairs, smoke and flames continued to spread, she said.

“Just as we cut across the grass, she (Dow) looked back and she looked horrified, and there it was — flames shooting out of everywhere,” Wilbur said.

Beverly Busque, 51, who lives next door on the other side of the building, at 23 Water St., said she suspected right away the fire was intentionally set after hearing the sound of smashing windows. She recalled seeing youngsters on bicycles earlier near the building.

“I asked my husband Andrew, ‘What the hell is going on out there?’ He comes out and says, ‘Call 911.’ The whole thing just — whoosh,” Busque said. “It was shooting out of the porch, then it jumped out my fence and jumped onto this tree, and I said, ‘Oh, my, God. My house is going, too.’”

Busque screamed out for Dow, who she believed is in her 40s.

The fire caught a large tree on Busque’s front yard, leaving branches and leaves on one side singed. Busque also noticed Monday morning that the intense heat had warped the shutters on the side of her house that faced the fire.

Firefighters were able to contain the blaze before it spread to her house.

“It started to come this way,” Busque said Monday. “I never, ever panic, but when I was out here last night, I was jumping right up and down in the driveway, and I was freaking out, thinking, ‘It’s heading for my house.’”

The building is owned by Roger Moody of Sidney, who said it is insured.

“I’ve been here for 21 years,” Busque said. “At one time this house belonged to my father-in-law — but it’s deteriorated over the years. It’s toast now. They’ll have to take it down. It’s totally unsafe.”

Waterville Fire Chief Dave LaFountain said firefighters were on the scene throughout the night, with the last ones not leaving until 8:30 a.m. Tuesday. LaFountain said the fire flared back up after an initial attack and firefighters had to leave the building twice because of structural concerns.

“After the second time, we put all the water we could muster on it, and it was still very stubborn,” LaFountain said. “Even after that, it took a while before we could access it to make sure it was all out. We had to peel off the metal roof, because it holds the heat in. It was a very difficult fire.”

Tuesday morning, workers with the Kennebec Water District were at the property, digging to the building’s water pipe to shut off the service. Handfuls of neighbors continued to walk over to look at the black, charred remains of the building.

Wilbur said the two juveniles who started the fire appeared to be 10 or 11 years old. She said she’s glad she went inside the house, because she’s not sure whether Dow would have made it out in time otherwise.

“She’s a sweet lady,” she said. “She’s lived there for a long time.”

Scott Monroe — 861-9239
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