AUGUSTA — A fire chased three families out of an apartment building on Hospital Street on Friday afternoon, but no one was injured.

Augusta Fire Department Battalion Chief Ed Charles said the state fire marshal’s office is still investigating how and where the fire started in the four-unit building at 208 Hospital St.

The fire was reported at 2:43 p.m. and was burning strong when firefighters arrived five minutes later. It may have started several minutes before the emergency call, Charles said.

“I’m not sure how that got past everyone that was driving up and down the highway,” he said. “When we got there, there was fire showing over the top of the roof.”

The fire caused the most damage to the back and south sides of the building on both floors. An apartment on the north side was saved from any significant damage, Charles said.

Hallowell resident William Bowden, who owns the building, said he bought it four years ago and had put in a new roof and windows. Three of the units were occupied, and he planned to renovate the empty apartment so he and his wife could downsize by moving in.

“I’ve been a landlord for 35 years, and this is the first fire,” Bowden said. “I’ve never had to deal with anything like this.”

Bowden said he believes that residents of all three occupied apartments were home when the fire started. They all made it out safely.

Delia Morin watched the firefighters work from the porch of her son’s house across the street. She had come from her home, just behind her son’s on Dyer Drive.

Morin said she is cat-sitting while her son, Floyd, is on vacation.

“I was playing cards with my husband, and I see the smoke and I said, ‘Oh my god, Floyd’s house is on fire,'” Morin said. “Because all I saw was smoke. It scared me to death. I’m taking care of the house, and I said, ‘Did I leave something on?'”

Morin saw flames over the garage on the south side of the apartment building, but she said thick black smoke soon obscured her view.

Charles said the flames moved easily between the walls and floors of the building, and into the attic.

Augusta was assisted by firefighters from the Chelsea, Gardiner, Togus and Winthrop fire departments. They remained on scene until about 6 p.m., Charles said.

Susan McMillan — 621-5645

smcmillan@mainetoday.com