Bath resident sentenced to 25 years for arson that burned down elementary school

Clair Vigil hears her prison sentence after pleading guilty to arson for setting a massive fire at the Dike Newell School last year. To her right is attorney Jennifer Cohen. Jason Claffey / The Times Record

A 31-year-old from Bath on Wednesday was sentenced to 25 years in prison after admitting to setting a massive fire at an elementary school last year.

Clair Vigil, formerly known as Allan Thomas Vigil, pleaded guilty to felony charges of arson and burglary in a deal she reached with prosecutors. She was sentenced to 15 years in prison on the arson charge and 5 years on the burglary charge, to be served concurrently. She was also sentenced to 10 years for violating her probation in connection with an arson conviction from a series of fires she set in 2013 in Bath, making the total sentence 25 years.

Vigil admitted to breaking into the empty Dike Newell School in Bath through a window the night of June 10, 2022, and using a lighter to ignite stacks of paper in an art supply closet. She also turned on a propane gas stove. Two firefighters were injured battling the fire, which destroyed more than half the building.

“I regret my choices,” Vigil said in a statement to Justice Daniel Billings in Sagadahoc County Superior Court in Bath. “I’m sorry my actions caused two members of the firefighting department to become injured. I deeply regret that my recklessness caused damage to the school. I regret that I didn’t consider the damage my actions would cause to others before I acted.”

At the time of the fire, Vigil went by Allan Thomas Vigil. While in jail, Vigil recently changed her name and gender identity and was referred to as Clair Vigil in court Monday.

Vigil’s attorney, Jennifer Cohen, wrote in a sentencing memo that her client has developmental issues and mental illness. She also wrote Vigil had a chaotic childhood that included neglect by her parents, placement in foster care and bullying.

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“There’s two sides to this story and there’s sadness and loss on both sides,” Billings said. “This is a fair and reasonable result under the terrible circumstances.”

The fire rendered the school unusable and its roughly 225 students in pre-K through 2 were moved to temporary classrooms at the former Bath Regional Career and Technical Center on High Street. Those students could remain there for the next several years as school officials plan a rebuilding project. The school district collected $11.4 million in insurance payouts after the blaze.

Deputy District Attorney Kent Murdick emphasized the fire jeopardized the lives of firefighters and could have been more catastrophic because Vigil turned on the stove, which firefighters turned off, preventing an explosion.

“If not for the actions of the Bath Fire Department, this could have been a lot worse than it was,” Murdick said.

Dike Newell School Principal Jennifer McKay wrote a victim impact statement about how the fire has affected the school community.

“We face years of challenges and difficulties from this criminal act and there are students who will only know their first years of education in this temporary, emergency setting,” McKay wrote. “Financially, we are still wrapping our heads around the millions of dollars in losses the fire caused. … The incredible amount of work and paid time needed to rebuild and restart is impossible to calculate.

“I hope Ms. Vigil finds the support, care and treatment needed to come out of this with the values we try to instill in our students.”

Billings said the impact of the arson has been “widespread, serious and ongoing.”

“The school is not just a building, it’s a community and (the fire) has ongoing effects on kids and families,” he said.

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