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By Brian Fraga
Standard-Times staff writer
September 11, 2008 6:00 AM

NEW BEDFORD - Two tenants have been charged with torching their Summer Street apartment where a city firefighter Tuesday performed mouth-to-mouth resuscitation on a cat, saving its life.
Alvin Warren Niles, 43, and Joan T. Perreira, 44, both of 562 Summer St., were arraigned Wednesday in District Court on arson charges.
According to the police investigation, the defendants conspired to burn their second-story apartment, allegedly to cash in on their renter's insurance policy. Police said the defendants had been involved in three prior insurance claims for burned vehicles.
However, with the state fire marshal's investigation incomplete and the evidence deemed circumstantial, Judge Robert Baylor denied Assistant District Attorney Paul Machado's request to hold the defendants on $25,000 cash bail.
Mr. Niles and Ms. Perreira were released on conditions that they report to a probation officer three times a week and undergo a psychiatric evaluation.
No one was injured in the fire in the three-story tenement, located just north of Interstate 195. The blaze was called in Tuesday morning by a third-floor tenant, who was the only person in the building at the time and escaped with his dog.
Firefighters, paramedics and animal rescue officers saved several animals from the building, including at least four dogs, three cats, a chinchilla, a ferret and some frogs.
Firefighter Al Machado rescued one cat from the burning second-floor apartment and gave it mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
However, two cats died in the defendant's second-floor apartment, which sustained heavy damage, especially in a bedroom area where fire officials said the blaze started.
Mr. Machado said a "pile of materials" in the bedroom appeared to have been intentionally set on fire. He said investigators found no natural source for the fire.
Mr. Machado also said a smaller fire in the building had been reported Monday. A tenant there told police a doormat had been set on fire and that Mr. Niles was seen a short time later in the area.
Defense lawyer Michael Prevost said Mr. Niles adamantly denied setting the fire and said it was his understanding the defendants did not have a renter's insurance policy.
Mr. Niles "has nothing to gain by setting this fire," Mr. Prevost said.

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