A fire that displaced about 30 residents of Gardiner’s Highland Terrace senior housing complex Wednesday was caused by an electrical problem, authorities said Sunday.

Gardiner Fire Chief Al Nelson said an investigator for the Office of the State Fire Marshal told him Sunday morning the cause of the blaze was determined to be accidental, caused by an undetermined electrical problem.

He said the problem was possibly a short circuit or similar issue in the living room of apartment 1A, the first floor apartment that was badly damaged by the fire.

The fire at the 28-unit apartment building on Highland Avenue was reported around 11:40 p.m. Wednesday, forcing about 30 residents, many in their sleepwear, out into the cold and snow.

Many were helped from their apartments and through the deep snow to a nearby home, where the resident took them in so they could stay warm.

“The neighbors really stepped up and helped people get to safe places,” Nelson said. “There was one house — I don’t know the name of the owner — they had 10 or 12 people in their living room in the middle of the night, trying to keep them warm.


“We appreciate it because it helps us. Because we knew everyone was in a warm place, and that takes that off our plate, so we can concentrate on the fire,” he said. “And the lady whose driveway we commandeered for our command area, she was up half the night bringing us coffee and other things.

“The neighborhood really stepped up.”

No one was seriously injured in the fire, but one woman was taken to MaineGeneral Medical Center in Augusta for smoke inhalation.

The United Way of Kennebec Valley has set up an online fundraising page for the victims of the fire at www.gofundme.com/GardinerFire.

Heather Pouliot, resource development and communications manager for the United Way of Kennebec Valley, said the United Way will oversee fundraising efforts to help the fire victims, then a committee will work together to distribute the money to the residents. The money is meant to help them find homes, clothing and meet other basic needs, she said.

A similar fund set up following two major fires in Augusta raised some $72,000.


The American Red Cross of Maine is putting 14 of the tenants up in motels through Monday and has distributed vouchers for food and clothing, said John Lamb, the spokesman for the American Red Cross of Maine.

Pouliot said the United Way agreed to cover an additional three nights for the residents to stay in hotels till Wednesday or Thursday, depending on need.

“We’re not going to let anyone go without housing,” she said.

Mayor Thom Harnett said the community, local agencies, organizations and officials have stepped up to help the fire victims.

“The United Way and Red Cross have been outstanding,” Harnett said of the assistance. “And I spent yesterday going around to all the merchants in Gardiner, so now we’ve got signs (telling people how they can help) and collection buckets in every store in town. It’s been gratifying. Everyone I talk to, everyone asks ‘What can I do to help?’ A lot of social organizations in Gardiner have offered to have dinners for fundraisers, things like that.”

Lamb said Friday afternoon that the organization had met with 23 of the 26 residents to assess their needs. Many of the tenants need medication or other medical equipment, he said.


Officials held a resource fair Friday night to help residents displaced by the fire find new housing.

Pouliot said a second resource fair is being planned for Monday or Tuesday, though the details of the event hadn’t been finalized because of the weather. Snow is expected to continue through Tuesday morning.

The event will likely include representatives of the homeless shelter, Augusta Housing Authority, landlords and others to help residents connect with the services they need to resume their lives following the fire.

Todd Mattson, an owner of Farmingdale-based C.B. Mattson, the firm which owns the apartments, said Thursday that the company found housing for some tenants in its other properties in the area, and others were staying with family or in hotels.

Firefighters from Augusta, Togus, Farmingdale, Pittston and Randolph, and Winthrop Ambulance Services and Delta Ambulance responded to assist Gardiner firefighters at the scene.

Keith Edwards — 621-5647


Twitter: @kedwardskj

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