A five-alarm fire that ripped through an apartment building Monday in downtown Biddeford claimed the life of an elderly man and left 34 people homeless.

State Fire Marshal Joe Thomas confirmed Monday night that an 88-year-old man who lived in a first-floor apartment died in the fire.

It took firefighters several hours to reach Arnold Goldman because the roof of the building collapsed and caused the second floor to fall onto the first-floor units.

An excavator was brought in to remove the rubble. It wasn’t until around 5 p.m. that firefighters found Goldman’s body in his apartment at 45 Hill St.

“He lived in the building and just couldn’t get out,” Thomas said.

Goldman’s daughter, Amy Goldman of Adger, Alabama, confirmed her father’s death during a phone interview Monday night.

“It’s kind of surreal,” she said. “I’m in shock.”

Arnold Goldman died in the fire Monday in Biddeford. Photo courtesy Amy Goldman

Amy Goldman said she spoke to her father by phone nearly every day, and that he moved into the apartment he shared with Donna Miller, who helped care for him, in January. Amy Goldman said her father would have celebrated his 89th birthday on July 26 and recently underwent triple-bypass heart surgery.

“Everyone really liked my father. He was a very outgoing and active person. He was popular with the young and the old,” Amy Goldman said.

Arnold Goldman owned and operated the Arlen Box Factory in Kennebunk until he sold the business more than three decades ago, his daughter said. The company made shoe boxes for some of the nation’s largest shoe retailers, including Sperry and Cole-Haan, she said.

Miller had said Monday morning that she was afraid her elderly roommate did not make it out.

Miller, 45, said Goldman was getting in the shower when she left the apartment to take her daughter to school. She found the building ablaze when she returned 10 minutes later.

She said she had been friends with Goldman for 25 years, and moved him into her unit about two months ago because he was forced to leave his previous living situation. Goldman showed early signs of dementia, she said.

“I know he didn’t make it out,” Miller said Monday morning. “He doesn’t hear alarms.”

While the cause will be difficult to determine because of the extensive damage, Thomas said the fire does not appear to be suspicious.

Sgt. Kenneth Grimes, an investigator with the State Fire Marshal’s Office, told reporters at the scene that it took most of the day to reach Goldman because of the huge amount of rubble left behind by the smoky, fast-moving blaze.

The American Red Cross’ Maine chapter issued a statement Monday evening that said its staff is working with the 34 people affected by the fire to ensure that they have food, a safe place to sleep and other essentials. The Red Cross said the fire affected 17 apartment units in two buildings.

“Over the next several days, the Red Cross will remain in contact with the affected individuals to provide financial assistance and community referrals as they begin to make their road to recovery,” the Red Cross said.

The city demolished 45 Hill St. on Monday night after firefighters deemed the structure unsafe to enter.

Biddeford Deputy Fire Chief Kevin Duross said Monday evening that an adjacent apartment building at 39 Hill St. sustained extensive smoke and water damage but will eventually be habitable once the damage has been cleaned up. The intense heat melted siding off the building, and several windows were broken.

“This fire produced a large amount of heat and smoke,” Duross said.

More than 100 firefighters from as far away as Portland and Sanford spent roughly five hours bringing the flames under control, Duross said.

The fire was reported just before 9 a.m.

The fire was mostly out by 2 p.m., but firefighters still could not get into parts of the building to make sure no one had been trapped inside, Biddeford Fire Chief Scott Gagne said.

The building’s roof and second floor appeared to have collapsed into the rest of the building, which sat on a steep incline. The upper two floors contained six apartments, while the lowest floor – exposed to the street level on one side – functioned as the building’s basement.

A worker from Central Maine Power said the company was forced to shut off electricity to at least three blocks of the city because the fire was next to a line of poles that carry the city’s main power feed. The fire trucks directing water onto the fire and operating in close proximity to the lines also complicated matters and required the power to be shut off, the CMP employee said.

A large plume of dark smoke could be seen from Saco, and the traffic around the neighborhood was rerouted for most of the day.

A resident of the building’s second floor, Jessica Cahill, 32, said she first noticed thick black smoke pouring from between the floorboards in her room. Within a minute, the apartment was filling with smoke, she said.

Kevin Schowisch, 59, who lives with her, said he is a contractor and lost everything.

“Everything was in there, my tools, the keys to my new truck,” he said. “It’s all in there.”

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

[email protected]

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

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Twitter: MattByrnePPH

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