PORTLAND — Police have charged a Portland man with setting a fire that destroyed several apartments above Colucci’s Hilltop Superette on Munjoy Hill and damaged the store.

Police say they arrested Elroy Montes-Lopez, 24, at the scene of the fire as he tried to get out of the building at 135 Congress St.

The fire, which started about 3:50 a.m. Saturday, destroyed the apartments upstairs from the market, including the apartment of co-owner Dickie Colucci.

No one was hurt, but nine people were displaced by the fire. A dog and two cats were killed.

Shortly before the fire started, Montes-Lopez went into one of the apartments, police said. The residents woke to find him standing over them, asking for something to eat and drink.

Police said the residents chased Montes-Lopez out of the apartment and called police. He tried to get back in but they pushed him out.

Montes-Lopez was trying to get out of the building — trying to push open a door that opened inward — when police arrived, police said. An officer grabbed him just as smoke alarms started sounding.

Another officer ran up to the second floor and found that a small barrel with clothing that had been set on fire. The flames had ignited a wall of the building.

With no fire extinguisher at hand, the officer and Colucci roused residents so they could escape. They had to use a rear stairwell because the fire was blocking their path out the front.

Portland firefighters extinguished the fire, which also damaged the third floor.

Colucci’s Hilltop Superette, on the first floor, sustained some damage but will probably be able to open within a few days, said Nicole Clegg, the city’s spokeswoman.

Three apartments were on the top two floors. The American Red Cross is working with the families to find them places to live.

Police said Montes-Lopez lives on nearby Morning Street. They said he is originally from Mexico and federal authorities are looking into his immigration status. Police said they faced a language barrier when they first questioned him.

Montes-Lopez was charged with arson and held in the Cumberland County Jail on $20,000 bail.

David Hench can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

dhench@pressherald.com