BRUNSWICK — Residents are urging the town to improve its fire inspection program, and to make the owner of a recently burned building clean it up or tear it down.
Neighbors are concerned that the apartment building at 16-18 Oak St. still looks the same as it did following a destructive fire in April. Town officials say there is little they can do to pressure the owner to rebuild.
However, they are trying to prevent fires like this one from happening in the future by considering how to better inspect the town’s apartment buildings.
The Fire Department now can only respond to complaints and does not proactively inspect those buildings. Deputy Fire Chief Jeff Emerson has requested an additional inspector for the past five years, but the request has never made it past the first draft of the town budget.
But a recent series of fires has brought attention to the issue.
In February, one person died and 17 people were left homeless by a fire at 84 Union St. In April, another 19 people were displaced at 18 Oak St., and a week later another blaze destroyed 45 Maine St., forcing relocation of more than a dozen residents.
A kitchen fire broke out in a High Street apartment building in early June, and the Unitarian Universalist Church on Pleasant Street was gutted by a blaze the same week.
The Oak Street and church fires were caused by electrical problems; the High and Union street fires were due to cooking accidents, and the Maine Street fire’s cause was officially undetermined, although inspectors believe it was electrical in nature.
None of these could have been prevented by better fire inspections, Town Manager Gary Brown emphasized at Monday’s Town Council meeting.
Still, the trend may be worrisome enough for the town to consider changing the way it inspects apartment buildings.
Councilor Margo Knight, in whose district the majority of the fires occurred, said that the goal is to have an annual inspection of buildings that contain three or more apartments.
Fire Chief Ken Brillant said the plan is in its early stages, but he hopes to have some ideas in the next few weeks.
In addition to pressing the town for better fire inspections, some residents want the town to pressure the owner of 16-18 Oak St. to clean up the property.
Kevin Twine, who lives across the street from the building, was one of a handful of residents who attended Monday’s council meeting and spoke on the matter. He was concerned that the building looks the same as it did three months ago, and noted that it is visible to drivers on Route 1.
Ann Marr, who lives on Cumberland Street, wrote an email to the town manager, code enforcement officer, and other town officials on Monday expressing concern that the building is not properly secured, and asking why it is taking the owner so long to rebuild.
“In my view point, it is not boarded up correctly to protect the building from weather and illegal entry,” she said Tuesday.
But Code Enforcement Officer Jeff Hutchinson said the building is properly secured on the first floor, which is all that is required.
A visit to the building on Tuesday revealed that all the first-floor windows are either intact or covered, although several second-floor windows are broken. But the building is still displays visible fire damage.
Its plastic siding is melted and warped around a gaping, charred hole in the back and roof. Personal items can still be seen inside several of the windows, and blackened roofing materials hang over the exterior walls in several places.
Owner Jeffrey Matthews said he removed charred materials that were lying around the building and mowed the grass after a neighbor complained, but hasn’t done much else because he was instructed not to by his insurance company.
“I was told not to do anything, other than remove debris, until I have a check in hand,” he said.
He said he didn’t know why it was taking his insurance company so long to cover the damages. In the meantime, he said he’s not sure what he’ll do next.
“It’s pretty tough to make a decision of what I want to do because I haven’t had an offer from the insurance company,” he said. “Until I have a check in hand I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
Melted siding and charred wood near the back of the multi-unit apartment building at 16-18 Oak St. in Brunswick. The building burned on April 8.
The apartment building at 16-18 Oak St. in Brunswick as it appears today. The building suffered a devastating fire on April 8.
The side of the apartment building at 16-18 Oak St. in Brunswick, which suffered a devastating fire on April 8.