South Portland apartment building fire displaces 24

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SOUTH PORTLAND — Vicki Whitaker was leaving her Redbank home  Wednesday morning when she and her son saw “a puff of black smoke.”

The smoke turned out to be a fire at a West End apartment building that forced two dozen occupants from their homes.

Flames broke out shortly after 10 a.m. on the balcony of a third-story apartment  at Building 2 of the Liberty Commons Apartments, 4 Liberty Lane. Fire Chief James Wilson said no one was injured in the fire, although one firefighter was hospitalized because of a medical condition.

Wilson said the entire building was evacuated and he did not know when residents would be allowed to return. He said the department was working quickly to make the building safe for tenants, and they would be allowed back as soon as it is safe.

While smoke rose from the roof of the building, firefighters were tossing furniture, sofa cushions, and other combustibles out the windows. Wilson said the blaze was under investigation and the cause had not been determined.

Whitaker said she and her son rushed to the scene after they spotted the smoke in the distance. Flames were visible when the arrived, and they and others ran into the building and started pounding on doors. She said some residents didn’t want to leave, although fire alarms were going off and dogs were barking.

Whitaker said an elderly woman with a cane was in the apartment below the fire and she and her son “were literally whaling on the door” before the tenant responded. She said the woman did not hear the alarms or the knocking at first; Whitaker and her son helped the woman leave the building, along with two other families.

“It was scary,” Whitaker said. “There we a lot of Good Samaritans. Anyone that was driving by was jumping out of their vehicles and running to help. Nobody stopped to take pictures. We were all just running into the building.”

Whitaker said building maintenance arrived after the group of passersby, followed by firefighters, who arrived quickly.

Former employee Dan Perreault of Westbrook, who worked as a service technician two years ago, said the apartment building had 12 units and the entire complex has 120 units.

The building is managed by Dolben Company. On-site employees declined to give details about the apartments, the fire or the tenants. An on-duty manager indicated that she could not speak to reporters. Senior Vice President Tom Beaton was on his way to the scene Wednesday, but was unavailable for comment.

Wilson said Portland, Scarborough and Cape Elizabeth fire departments provided assistance, and the Red Cross responded to the scene with aid for residents. Ann Kim, spokeswoman for the American Red Cross of Maine, told the Portland Press Herald the organization was working with 24 residents of the apartment building.

Still dressed in pajamas, Patty Mulligan, whose boyfriend and mother live in the building that burned, watched as firefighters put out the blaze.

“Thank God they were here quick enough,” Mulligan said.

South Portland firefighters work to extinguish a blaze that broke out Wednesday morning, Nov. 15, at the Liberty Commons apartment complex. The fire was in a 12-unit building; there were no immediate reports of injuries. (Melanie Sochan / The Forecaster)