Portland police seek suspected West End arsonist

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Federal Street fire not related to 4 others reported early Monday

PORTLAND — Police are investigating a string of suspicious fires early Monday morning in the west side.

Police Lt. Gary Rogers said four fires were reported within an hour of each other shortly after midnight in the Parkside and St. Johns Valley neighborhoods.

Police believe another overnight fire, in an apartment building on Federal Street the East End, was unrelated.

No one was injured and minimal damage resulted from the West End fires, Rogers said.

“Fortunately, minor damage and no injuries,” he said. “But it’s obviously concerning. We consider it suspicious given the short time frame. And the locations are all in close proximity, so they’re connected. “

The first fire was reported at 12:14 a.m. at 143 Grant St. Residents reported that recycling bins were burning in the basement of an apartment building. Firefighters extinguished the blaze, which caused minor damage.

About 15 minutes later a garbage bin fire was reported about a half a mile away at 52 Gilman St. Rogers said the bin was about 10 feet from the building, and no damage was reported.

The third and most destructive fire was reported a block away at 242 Valley St. shortly after 12:30 a.m. Rogers said a 16- to 20-foot boat was set ablaze, causing an estimated $5,000 in damage.

About 20 minutes later, covering used during construction was reported on fire at 867 Congress St..

Rogers said that fire had burned out by the time crews were on the scene, resulting in “very minor” damage.

Rogers said police are following leads from witness. He would not elaborate about whether that information pertained to a description of a person or a vehicle.

Anyone with information is being asked to contact police at 874-8533.

It’s not the first time police have investigated arson in the Parkside neighborhood.

In April, 2008, more than a early morning fires were reported.

Last February, Thomas Cassidy, a Portland man, who admitted to setting 15 cars on fire, pleaded guilty to 21 felony counts of arson and 11 counts of burglary of a motor vehicle, among others.

Federal Street fire

Rogers said a fire that was reported shortly before 1:30 a.m. does not appear to be related to the suspected arsons.

Fire Chief Fred LaMontange said the fire at three-story apartment at 52 Federal St. appears to have started on a partially enclosed third-floor porch and extended into the attic.

Firefighters, who had to open up the roof to fight the fire, had the blaze knocked down in about 45 minutes, LaMontagne said.

“It was a very man-power intensive process to fight the fire,” he said.

LaMontagne that six to eight residents of the three-unit apartment building were able to make it out safely and found places to stay. No firefighters were injured, he said.

LaMontagne said there moderate fire damage to the third floor and the attic, but it could be days before official damage estimates are provided.

Although it may also take several days to determine the fire’s cause, LaMontagne said preliminary findings indicate the fire was accidental.

But LaMontagne said the initial results of the investigation are “very preliminary.”

Randy Billings can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 100 or rbillings@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @randybillings.