Monday, March 10, 2014
LEWISTON - As two 13-year-old boys are due in court on charges they set two separate arson fires that destroyed several downtown apartment buildings, the last of the nearly 200 people displaced will finally move into an apartment of their own this week.
This view from Bates Street in Lewiston shows a portion of the now-cleared site of an arson fire that destroyed buildings at 105-111 Blake St., 172 Bates St. and 82 Pine St. on April 29. The city is working with the owner to determine the future of the site.
Photos by John Patriquin/Staff Photographer
Adriana Garcia escaped the April 29 fire despite a broken leg, but lost everything. She has received a lot of help since then, and says she feels blessed in her new home. Her hand injury was not related to the fire.
Maimouna Djouma and her three sons lived at 110 Pierce St. before it was destroyed. She and one of her sons are in wheelchairs since contracting polio years ago in their home country, the Central African Republic. That complicated efforts by multiple agencies in Lewiston to find the family an available apartment that was handicapped-accessible.
Djouma and her sons have been living with her eldest son, 22-year-old Michaella Ousmane, in his cramped one-bedroom apartment since the May 3 fire, with some sleeping on couches and others on the floor.
"The apartment is too small," Ousmane said, adding that his mother and brothers are "very relieved" that they will soon be moving into a newly vacated unit on Knox Street.
Ousmane, who works full time in the personal care field, said his mother, 45, and brothers -- Ouseiny, 20, Younoussa, 18, and Amadou, 13 -- lost everything they owned in the fire and had nearly lost hope before many groups in the city came together to help them find a new home.
Djouma's good news comes as the juvenile court hearings begin for the two boys accused of starting the first two of three fires that ravaged Lewiston over the course of a little more than a week. Both boys are accused of arson and are scheduled to appear in separate hearings Monday in Lewiston District Court.
Brody Covey, 13, is accused of starting a fire on April 29 behind the condemned building where he and his parents faced eviction at 105-111 Blake St. That fire created such fierce flames that it spread and destroyed adjacent buildings at 172 Bates St. and 82 Pine St.
The second boy, 13-year-old Abdi Ibrahim, is accused of starting an unrelated second fire on May 3 in a garage between Bartlett and Pierce streets. That fire destroyed four apartment buildings at 149 Bartlett St., 110 Pierce St., 114 Pierce St. and 116 Pierce St.
Covey is charged with three counts of arson. Ibrahim is charged with four counts of arson.
Two adults have been charged with a third arson fire on May 6 that destroyed two vacant apartment buildings at 114 and 118 Bartlett St. Both Brian Morin, 30, and Bryan Wood, 23, were indicted earlier this month on two counts of arson each. Morin has pleaded not guilty. Wood has yet to be arraigned in Androscoggin County Superior Court.
Juveniles convicted of arson could be committed to a youth detention facility until they turn 21. An adult convicted of arson, a Class A felony, faces up to 30 years in prison.
SITES CLEARED, FUTURE UNCERTAIN
The sites of the three arsons have been cleared, and grass now grows where the buildings at Blake, Bates and Pine streets once stood. Flat sand lots are all that remain where the multistory buildings on Bartlett and Pierce streets were burned.
Gildace Arsenault, director of Lewiston Planning and Code Enforcement, said it may take years before anything can be done with the sites.
The city is now working with the owners of each of the properties to determine whether they can rebuild on the sites, whether the city will seize the land through tax liens and what will be covered by insurance.
"I'm hopeful that we will see progress in two to three years, but I'm also realistic," Arsenault said.
If the city wanted to take ownership of a property through a tax lien, that alone would take at least 18 months. Four or five years may be a more realistic timetable, he said.
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The April 29 fire destroyed 105-111 Blake St. (right), 82 Pine St. (left) and 172 Bates St. (rear)
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The May 3 fire destroyed 149 Bartlett St. (front), 110, 114 and 116 Pierce St. (rear).
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The May 6 fire destroyed 114 and 118 Bartlett St.