A firefighter douses a hot spot from a ladder truck at 45 Hill St. in Biddeford on Tuesday, the day after a five-alarm fire killed a resident of the apartment building. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

BIDDEFORD — Donna Miller drew a deep breath and sighed as she thought about what will come next.

“Rebuild,” said the 45-year-old.

Donna Miller and her daughter lost everything in the fire, she said.

She was one of the dozens of people displaced Monday by a fast-moving five-alarm fire that destroyed the six-unit building where she lived, killed her 88-year-old friend and roommate, Arnold Goldman, and damaged a neighboring building.

Miller said she will “try to continue life as normal for my 16-year-old daughter. Try to rebuild our life together, return things to as normal as possible as we grieve for Arnie.”

Miller and her daughter lost everything in the fire, she said. Clothes. Shoes. Papers. Car keys. Medicine. All of it, gone.

So far Miller said she had been both overwhelmed by the support from her neighbors and the community, and stricken by grief for Goldman, her friend of 20 years.

Miller’s voice swelled and she fought back tears as she remembered the sweet older man who was always there for her when she was short on luck, and became a grandfather figure for her daughter, Misty.

Arnold Goldman

Goldman owned a shoe box factory, Arlen Box Factory, in Kennebunk before he sold the business more than three decades ago, according to his daughter, Amy Goldman of Adger, Alabama.

Miller said she met Goldman in about 1998, and he had been a buoyant, supportive force in her life ever since.

Before he stopped working for good, Goldman was a toll taker for the Maine Turnpike Authority. Everywhere he went, he made friends, Miller said.

“He was a well-known guy,” Miller said. “Always had a smile. Always flirting with the girls. Everybody that knew Arnie had a blessing. He was a blessing to know.”

State Fire Marshal Joe Thomas said the damage was too severe to safely investigate the cause of the fire before the gutted building was demolished Tuesday, but the flames are believed to have started on the first floor.

“There’s nothing to indicate anything other than an accidental nature, but being able to pinpoint the origin will be difficult,” Thomas said.

Goldman’s death was the eighth so far this year from fires in Maine. Last year, 16 people died in fires, Thomas said. The annual death toll from fire-related incidents ranges from about 15 to 25 people, Thomas said.

“Certainly, eight people at the beginning of April is concerning to me, I’ll tell you that,” he said. “Not that I have any control over it, but it’s troubling.”

Workers clean up debris Tuesday from the fatal fire Monday in Biddeford. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

The building’s owners, Richard and Denise Langevin of Biddeford, declined to comment on the fire.

“This is a really, really hard time for us right now,” Denise Langevin said during a brief phone interview. “My husband and I are devastated over this.”

The American Red Cross of Maine said Tuesday that it was helping 37 people displaced from the fire, up from 34 on Monday. In addition to destroying 45 Hill St., a neighboring multiunit building at 39 Hill St. was damaged by smoke and water. It was not known when that building will be habitable again.

Miller said she wondered about the age of the building’s wiring system and said she told investigators about a towel warmer that Goldman liked to use.

A firefighter looks over the remains of the apartment building on Hill Street in Biddeford on Tuesday. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

“He’d put it on, get in the shower, warm up his towel, and he’d get out,” Miller said.

Miller said that when she left the house Monday to drop off her daughter at school, she turned off her TV and her daughter shut off her lights. Goldman was getting into the shower.

When she returned, the building was up in flames.

Miller said the smoke alarms in the building were functioning properly – she tested them before signing her lease about two months ago, she said. But Miller worried that Goldman could not hear them.

It was unknown whether Biddeford code enforcement officers had recently inspected the building. Multiple messages to Biddeford Code Enforcement Officer Roby Fecteau were not returned Tuesday.

Following the Halloween 2014 fire on Noyes Street in Portland that killed six young adults, Biddeford city officials vowed in 2016 to inspect all apartment buildings for life-safety code violations, starting with Main Street.

The city has about 650 apartment buildings, and officials had planned to prioritize buildings constructed between 1900 and 1978, before modern safety codes were developed.

On Hill Street on Tuesday, an excavator moved debris at the site, now piled high in the center of the property. Neighbors watched from nearby porches.

Miller said she has been amazed at the outpouring of support she’s received, from strangers offering hugs Monday as she watched the flames, to the donations of clothes and other items she will need.

“I’ve been so grateful for everybody. But it still doesn’t bring Arnie back,” she said.

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

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Twitter: MattByrnePPH

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