Tenants begin returning to Riverside Motor Court after last week’s fire

3 years ago

CARIBOU, Maine — A week after an electrical fire did major damage to the Riverside Motor Court apartments on the Access Highway north of Caribou, tenants have begun to return to their apartments.

The flames burned through the under-renovation attic on the night of July 5, doing little major structural damage to living spaces. The fire triggered sprinklers in several apartments, and the water and smoke damage in the four units closest to the fire was significant. 

It is rather uncommon to return a building to partial occupancy after a fire, Code Enforcement Officer Ken Murchison said, but was possible with this, both because it was contained in large part to the attic and because it “smoldered” rather than burned.

“In this case, where there were so many dwelling units, we had determined the fire incident really happened in the center of the building at the convergence of the two wings, [and] when the owner was ready we would come in unit by unit and give a certificate of occupancy for tenants to return,” Murchison said.

Working alongside the city’s building inspector, the Red Cross and the landlord, Murchison and his team have determined that 14 of the apartments are safe for residents to return. They gave the go-ahead for those units on July 12. The remaining four apartments most affected by the incident are still vacant. Murchison said those tenants have been put up in motels or have found other temporary living arrangements. 

The timeline for the final apartments to earn their certificate of occupancy is hazy, Murchison said. Since the fire tore through the building, not only do certain electrical and plumbing elements need replacing, but others now need to be brought up to contemporary building code standards. 

Alongside those alterations, Murchison said the landlord is also undertaking certain aesthetic improvements as well — new cabinets in the kitchen, for example. 

“I’m very pleased with their progress, and we will continue to look out for them,” Murchison told the Caribou City Council at a July 12 meeting.