AUBURN — A local man admitted Wednesday to setting fire in 2018 to a boarding house from which tenants were forced to flee.

Justin Knight, 35, of 138 Spring St. pleaded guilty to four counts of arson in the Sept. 30, 2018, incident.

He agreed to be sentenced to 20 years in prison of which he would only have to serve up to 10 years, followed by four years of probation.

A judge scheduled that sentencing for a later date.

Justin Knight Androscoggin County Jail photo

Assistant District Attorney Andrew Matulis told the judge a police officer responded to a dispatched call to 63 Academy St. where he found the porch of the boarding house fully engulfed in flames and tenants fleeing the burning building.

Officers went inside to clear the remaining residents from the building, but by the time they had reached the second floor, the interior walls and a bathroom were on fire.

Roughly nine tenants had lived in the building. At the time of the blaze, at least six of them had been at home.

The building was heavily damaged, and the residents all lost their property as a result of the fire, Matulis said.

A police detective said the gas cap of a vehicle parked outside the building had a burning dollar bill sticking out of the gas tank opening, but it hadn’t ignited the gasoline.

A fire investigator said there had been two areas of the building where fires had been set.

“No potential sources of an accidental cause were observed,” Matulis quoted the investigator.

A witness told investigators she had seen a man setting the fires, including a trash can on a porch on one side of the building. She also saw a man carrying boards up to the other side of the building.

Matulis said she “could hear the breaking of wood and then saw flames coming from the other porch.”

Knight had also attempted to ignite the gas tank of another vehicle in the area, Matulis said.

Police interviewed Knight after a domestic violence call. He eventually confessed to setting the fires on the “big scary house.”

Matulis said Knight told police “he doesn’t know what he is doing when he starts fires, but he’s not sure what causes him to start fires.”

Knight said he had been fighting with his girlfriend at the time. He saw the cardboard and he lit it on fire, Matulis said.

Knight told police the cardboard was under the porch. He then admitted setting a second fire in a trash can on the other porch.

He said that he could have done both the cars, “but he did not have an independent recollection of doing so,” Matulis said.

Knight also pleaded guilty Wednesday to a domestic violence assault charge that was factored into his plea agreement.

Other charges were dismissed by prosecutors.

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