Cause of house fire that claimed 5 in Maine remains unclear
PORTLAND, Maine — After an intense blaze tore through a two-apartment house near the University of Southern Maine, killing five people and critically injuring another, investigators returned to the scene Sunday hunting for clues to the cause of the state’s deadliest fire in three decades.
In a heavy, wet snow, police and fire investigators moved in and out of what remained of the three-story building. The road was still blocked off, and a memorial that included flowers and a pumpkin had sprung up.
Even as the cause of the fire and identity of the victims remained a mystery, officials had sorted out one element of confusion by the end of Saturday, a day that sent ripples of anxiety and sorrow through the campus and the city of Portland: Everyone who had been in the house was accounted for.
State fire marshal’s spokesman Steve McCausland said most, if not all, the residents of the 94-year-old house were USM students, but he said there was no indication that students were killed in the fire.
On Sunday night, the fire marshal’s office was still working on identifying the five who died. McCausland said the office continued to investigate the cause of the blaze and would be joined Monday by federal investigators.
Carol Schiller, who lives near the home and is president of the University Neighborhood Organization, said she woke up Saturday morning to loud popping sounds and looked outside her window to see a man engulfed in flames.
“He was making some sounds, probably screaming,” Schiller said. “I saw him rolling on the ground, and then it clicked, ‘Oh my God, he’s on fire.’ ”
Schiller said she wrote a letter to the city in May expressing concern about the condition of the home.