PORTLAND — Two young boys who were lighting sparklers with a toaster Monday started a fire in an apartment building on Munjoy Hill that damaged seven apartments and displaced nine tenants, said acting Fire Chief Stephen Smith.

Smith said the boys, both younger than 5, had seen their mother light cigarettes with the toaster. She had just left the bedroom where the boys were when a mattress ignited, he said.

No one was injured in the fire, which started around 11:40 a.m. in the 22-unit apartment building at the corner of Montgomery and Congress streets, Smith said.

Although city officials didn’t name the tenants, Eleanor Albert said her daughter, Daralyn Albert, lived with her 3- and 4-year-old sons in the second-floor apartment where the fire started.

Portland is one of several communities that banned sales and use of fireworks after the Maine Legislature voted last year to make them legal, but Smith said the sparklers, called Morning Glories, are legal in the city.

City officials say there were incidents involving fireworks in the week before the first Fourth of July since the state law took effect.

On Saturday, a fire started in a Dumpster at the Hall Elementary School on Orono Road after kids disposed of fireworks that they thought were extinguished, Smith said.

City spokeswoman Nicole Clegg said Portland police issued their first court summons for illegal use of fireworks, to a Virginia man who was setting them off around 11 p.m. Wednesday on Orono Road. He was fined $200.

She said there was no connection between the man and the kids at the Hall school.

Gov. Paul LePage and state Fire Marshal Joe Thomas discussed fireworks safety Monday after touring Phantom Fireworks, a store that opened last month in Scarborough.

“We’re trying to make sure that people are educated on both the law, for what they can and cannot use, and obviously, when it comes to use, that they do it in as safe a manner as possible,” Thomas said.

LePage, who championed the new fireworks law, said he hopes Mainers will enjoy them safely Wednesday.

“There is a demand and we want to make sure there’s an adequate supply that is safe and sold to people of age,” he said. The law requires buyers to be 21 or older.

Asked about Monday morning’s fire in Portland, LePage said, “Where were the parents? That’s my question.”

Cliff Hethcoat, who lives in the apartment next to Albert, said Albert had left the boys in the bedroom to use the bathroom when the fire started. Black smoke that billowed from the building could be seen across the city.

Twenty-two Portland firefighters responded, Smith said. They put out the fire within a half-hour, said Deputy Fire Chief David Jackson.

Sections of Congress Street and Cumberland Avenue, between Smith Street and Washington Avenue, were closed to traffic for about three hours.

Neighbors and other tenants of the building, some with soot on their faces, lined up along the sidewalks, looking at the firefighters and the burned building.

Though other apartments were damaged by smoke, Jackson said, the flames were contained to the one apartment. Its charred interior was visible from the street.

The building is next to Otto Pizza and across Congress Street from Eastern Cemetery, near the base of Munjoy Hill. A consignment store called Haberdashery opened on the first floor recently.

Eleanor Albert said her daughter was too distraught to talk to a reporter after the fire Monday, but they were grateful that everyone got out of the building safely.

“That’s the main thing, and I thank God for that,” she said.

– Staff Writer Eric Russell contributed to this report.

Staff Writer Leslie Bridgers can be contacted at 791-6364 or at: [email protected]


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