A Biddeford man, despondent after a fight with his wife, spent most of Tuesday drinking 40-ounce beers, then doused his apartment with gasoline and ignited it, investigators said Wednesday.

The fumes erupted into a fireball in the first-floor apartment, killing Ricardo Santiesteban and sending flames up the rear walls of the four-story building and into the attic.

Investigators said it was a suicide and that Santiesteban, 49, had a friend deliver a note to his wife, Gail Rydle, who was in an apartment in a nearby building.

When Biddeford firefighters arrived at 29 Main St., flames and smoke were pouring from the building.

“The report came in initially as an explosion and then heavy fire in the building,” said fire Capt. John Pothier. “Once we arrived on scene, there were reports of people inside so we had to go into rescue mode. Two initial crews spent time going apartment to apartment to assist people.”

Firefighters helped two people to safety, he said.

One resident was taken to the hospital for treatment, and two firefighters remained at Southern Maine Medical Center on Wednesday in stable condition but still being treated for exhaustion and cardiac issues, he said.

Firefighters were hampered by the apartment building’s construction and layout. Balloon construction, which has walls with no fire stops from the ground to the roof, let the fire climb quickly within the walls, Pothier said.

The attic, an open space conducive to spreading fire, was accessible only from one of the apartments, he said, and firefighters couldn’t reach it.

In addition to killing Santiesteban, the fire displaced nine residents and destroyed all of their belongings.

It’s fortunate that more people weren’t killed, said Stephen McCausland, spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety.

Investigators spent most of Tuesday night looking for clues to determine the cause of the fire.

A dog from the state Fire Marshal’s Office helped investigators determine that gasoline had been poured in the first-floor apartment. Santiesteban had apparently bought the gasoline that afternoon, McCausland said.

The fire broke out at 5:30 p.m., and firefighters from Biddeford and surrounding communities responded. Main Street was shut down for several hours.

The American Red Cross has worked to find temporary housing for the displaced residents.

The Biddeford assessor’s website shows that the building, with eight one-bedroom apartments, was built in 1930 and was worth $300,000. It is owned by Nicholas Hurlin of Newburyport, Mass.

Staff Writer David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at: [email protected]