PORTLAND — The second anniversary of the city’s deadliest blaze in more than 50 years will be observed with a celebration of the lives lost.
Six people died Nov. 1, 2014, in the fire at 20-24 Noyes St.
David Foster, coordinator of the Noyes Street Fire Memorial Committee, said the public is invited to the celebration from 1-4 p.m. Oct. 30 in Longfellow Park to honor David Bragdon Jr., 27; Ashley Thomas, 29; Nicole Finlay, 26; Christopher Conlee, 25; Maelisha Jackson, 26, and Steven Summers, 29.
“I’m just trying to do what’s right for the kids,” Foster said.
Julie Sullivan, senior advisor to City Manager Jon Jennings, said the city has received the application for the event and is working with the organizers.
The cause of the fire was accidental, but property owner Gregory Nisbet is expected to appear in court on manslaughter charges in the coming weeks. In addition, Summers’ widow, Ashley Summers, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Nisbet.
Bragdon, Thomas and Finlay lived in the house, and everyone except Summers, who died three days later at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, perished at the scene from smoke inhalation.
Foster, who knew many of those who died in the fire and worked with Bragdon at the Great Lost Bear restaurant, said a celebration is what the victims would have wanted.
“The last thing they (would have wanted) is people standing in a circle and crying,” he said.
Carol Schiller, who is a member of the Noyes Street Fire Memorial Committee and lives in the neighborhood, said committee members wanted to pick a day close to the anniversary and settled on Sunday, Oct. 30, as opposed to Nov. 1, which is a Tuesday.
Schiller said the purpose of the memorial celebration, which she compared to the Mexican Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is to “turn grief into something positive.”
“It’s not a memorial of their death, it’s a celebration of their life,” Foster added.
Foster and Schiller said the commemoration will likely include musical performances, arts and crafts, games, food and other activities. They said anyone with ideas for the event or who wants to participate at committee meetings is welcome, and should contact Foster at email@example.com. The Noyes Street Fire Memorial Committee meets the first Monday of every week in Longfellow Park from 11 a.m.-noon.
This would not be the first commemoration in Longfellow Park for the victims of the fire. In 2015, the committee pushed for the installation of a memorial called the “Stars of Light,” which included six illuminated sculptures by artist Pandora LaCasse after a committee led by Ashley Summers raised more than $8,000.
However, the exhibit – and connecting it to a source of electricity – became a source of contention between neighbors, city staff and elected officials.
The temporary art display was permitted for 90 days from Nov. 1, 2015, to Jan. 30, 2016, in the park between Noyes, Longfellow and Oakdale streets. District 3 City Councilor Ed Suslovic said as part of the permit for the temporary exhibit, the park had to be restored to its prior condition, including the removal of temporary power poles.
When it was first proposed, some neighbors, including School Board member Laurie Davis, objected to the exhibit due to lack of public notice.
“The way that that temporary public art installation came about was less than optimal,” Suslovic said, adding that neighbors did not feel included in the project due to poor communication and, as a result, something meant to bring the community together actually did the opposite.
He said if there is a desire by the neighborhood to do something different with the park, there is a process in place that starts with the parks commission.
“Just because a couple people want to do something with a park doesn’t mean that’s what should be done,” he said.
Sullivan said the temporary exhibit was a compromise made so a positive effort at a memorial would not be ruined.
Schiller is circulating a petition to restore electricity to the park, which 90 people have signed so far. She said she plans to give it to Mayor Ethan Strimling. According to language in the petition, Jennings ordered the source of electricity to be removed July 22 without soliciting public input, and Schiller wants to set up a meeting with Foster, Strimling and Jennings.
“We’re trying to work around a city that keeps trying to take things away,” Schiller said.
Both Foster and Schiller said the celebration will happen regardless of the availability of electricity. Foster said organizers would “do it with battery power” if necessary.
Suslovic, meanwhile, said based on his conversation with neighborhood residents, most people like the park the way it is. Permanent electrical service, he said, would require a plan.
“Simply putting in electricity for the sake of putting in electricity doesn’t, to me, make a lot of sense without knowing what people want,” he said.
Suslovic said he hopes when future memorials are planned, there will be a greater effort to increase inclusion in order to promote community healing.
“The last one was not inclusive in terms of way it was planned and installed,” Suslovic said.
A fire on Noyes Street in Portland killed six people in November 2014. Their lives will be celebrated in an event planned for the second anniversary of the blaze.
Crews remove electric poles in Longfellow Park on Noyes Street in Portland. The poles were part of a temporary art exhibit in 2015 to honor the victims of the Noyes Street fire.