Weary of living in hotels, victims of an Old Orchard Beach fire return home to find unfinished conditions.

OLD ORCHARD BEACH — Daniel Reynolds was looking forward to getting back into his apartment after living in hotels since a fire badly damaged Centennial Place, a 30-unit apartment building on School Street, this past winter.

He was tired of not having an oven or Internet access or air conditioning. He expected renovations to the School Street apartment building would be finished, or at least close to it.

“I was excited to get back, but not like this. I was hoping it would be back to normal,” said Reynolds, pointing out exposed wires, cement hallway floors and ubiquitous dust. He said the dust and smell of paint irritates his asthma.

Reynolds was among a number of elderly, disabled and low-income renters who were moved back into the apartment building last weekend as the hotels they were staying in through the winter geared up for the summer tourist season.

The town had arranged to have a local hotel owner rent rooms to the displaced residents, rent that was largely covered by their Maine State Housing Authority subsidies, but on the condition they be out by Memorial Day.

“We wanted to move them back in even more quickly than this. We knew we had to be out of (the hotels) by Memorial Day,” said V. Louise Reid, the assistant town manager.

Old Orchard Beach police recruits helped move 21 residents back into their apartments last Saturday. Town staff and volunteers helped get the apartment ready for the residents’ return.

Reid said there is still work to be done by Alpha Management, but most of the residents seemed thrilled to be back in their building, she said.

Reynolds said he contacted the Maine State Housing Authority about the condition of Centennial Place and was told that the tenants’ rooms were checked and the building passed inspection. Clearly work continues. One side of the first floor, where the fire started and did the most damage, still has no one living in it as the construction crew continues to renovate.

Elsewhere, rooms are generally intact, though the common areas are still a work in progress.

A call to Alpha Management was not returned by press time.

The Jan. 29 fire was dramatic, in part because many of the residents who live there are disabled or elderly. Many also have pets and were reluctant to leave the building without them, even as smoke filed the hallways. Two people jumped from second-story windows, eight to 10 feet to the snowbanks below. Nobody died.

Katherine McGee was on the third floor. She refused to leave without her cat, Tigger, who was hiding under the bed.

The hallways and stairs became impassable, so firefighters placed a ground ladder up to her window. The department had to use ground ladders because their engines couldn’t get close to the building because the parking lot still had large mounds of snow from a recent snowstorm.

McGee had been yelling for help out the window, but refused to climb out onto the ladder, she said. A firefighter tried to convince her.

“She told me it was really bad and we were both going to die,” McGee said, referring to herself and her cat. Then she pushed out onto the ladder.

As firefighters were helping her down the ladder, her foot got caught between two rungs, breaking her leg, she said. She spent three weeks in the hospital and three weeks in rehabilitation before Alpha Management found her a first-floor apartment in Scarborough, where she has lived the past three months.

McGee said she likes her apartment in Centennial Place, with its window looking out over the street. But she said the unfinished hallways make her uneasy and the malfunctioning elevator is essential for her to get to dialysis three times a week.

The elevator had been working, tenants said, and elevator repair specialists were in the building as recently as Thursday. However, on Friday, the elevator was stuck on the second floor, where the panel with buttons to summon it was hanging off the wall, held by its electrical wires.

Katye Adams-Locey said coming back home is good but also creates an uneasiness.

“It’s still kind of scary because you never know if the fire’s going to happen again,” she said.

While disappointed that renovations are not complete, Reynolds – a resident there for 12 years – said there is comfort in being on familiar ground.

“We all are happy to be home and together and not in a hotel,” he said. As if in agreement, his large calico, Bella, rubbed affectionately against his leg. “My cats are very happy to be back.”