PORTLAND – A Rockland man was arrested on an arson charge after a smoky pre-dawn fire Wednesday in a Weymouth Street apartment that injured one person and drove nearly two dozen others from the four-story building.
Eric Malmstrom, 22, admitted that he set the blaze after getting into an argument with his friend Guy Leach, 33, in Leach’s apartment, police said.
Leach was asleep in a back bedroom and was overcome by smoke when firefighters arrived at the building shortly after 4 a.m. after tenants were awakened by a smoke alarm, said police Lt. Joseph Loughlin.
“He was near death,” Loughlin said. “He was rushed to Maine Medical Center with extreme smoke inhalation. His system had shut down.”
Leach was treated at the hyperbaric chamber at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston to gain oxygen and was in stable condition.
Police say Malmstrom left the building and went to a convenience store, only to return while firefighters were at the scene.
Malmstrom, who was named in two outstanding misdemeanor warrants, was questioned at police headquarters and confessed to setting the fire, Loughlin said.
Malmstrom, who was ordered to undergo a psychiatric examination, was being held in the Cumberland County Jail.
Officials said the blaze apparently started when paper was ignited in a wastebasket near a sofa.
“It’s amazing that the fire didn’t spread to other apartments,” Loughlin said.