Auburn man admits setting fire to boarding house

AUBURN – A local resident admitted on Wednesday that he burned down a guesthouse in 2018 from which tenants were forced to flee.

Justin Knight, 35, of 138 Spring St., pleaded guilty to four counts of arson in the incident on September 30, 2018.

He agreed to be sentenced to 20 years in prison, of which he would only have to serve 10 years, followed by four years of probation.

A judge fixed this sentence at a later date.

Justin knight Androscoggin County Jail Photo

Deputy District Attorney Andrew Matulis told the judge that a police officer responded to a call sent to 63 Academy Street, where he found the guesthouse porch fully engulfed in flames and tenants fleeing the building in fire.

Officers went inside to evacuate the building’s remaining residents, but by the time they reached the second floor, the interior walls and a bathroom were on fire.

About nine tenants had lived in the building. At the time of the fire, at least six of them were at home.

The building was badly damaged and residents all lost their belongings as a result of the fire, Matulis said.

A police detective said the gas cap of a vehicle parked outside the building had a burning dollar bill sticking out of the gas tank opening, but it didn’t had not ignited the gasoline.

A fire investigator said there had been two areas of the building where fires had been started.

“No potential source of accidental cause was observed,” said Matulis, citing the investigator.

A witness told investigators she saw a man start the fire, including a trash can on a porch on one side of the building. She also saw a man carrying boards across the building.

Matulis said she “could hear the broken wood and then see flames coming from the other porch.”

Knight had also attempted to ignite the gas tank of another vehicle in the area, Matulis said.

Police questioned Knight after a domestic violence call. He eventually confessed to setting the fire in the “big scary house”.

Matulis said Knight told police “he didn’t know what he was doing when he started fires, but he didn’t really know what made him start fires.”

Knight said he had a fight with his girlfriend at the time. He saw the cardboard and he lit the fire, said Matulis.

Knight told police the box was on the porch. He then admitted to starting a second fire in a trash can on the other porch.

He said he could have done both cars, “but he couldn’t remember doing it,” Matulis said.

Knight also pleaded guilty on Wednesday to a domestic violence assault charge which was factored into his plea deal.

Other charges were dismissed by prosecutors.

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