Portland fire lawsuits mount against Noyes Street landlord

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PORTLAND — The owner of a building at 20-24 Noyes St. now faces almost $11 million in wrongful death claims from a Nov. 1, 2014, fire that killed six people.

The cause of the fire on Jan. 21 was determined to be accidental.

Gregory Nisbet, who has owned the multi-unit building since 2003, is now seeking city permission to tear the building down.

On Jan. 20, meanwhile, Judge Jeffrey Moskowitz of the Cumberland County Unified Criminal Docket ordered Nesbit to make repairs by Feb. 1 at another building he owns, at 186 Dartmouth St.

In a Jan. 20 press conference also attended by city Fire Chief Jerome LaMoria, State Fire Marshal Joseph Thomas said “Our investigation has concluded the actions associated with the fire were driven by human behaviors.”

Officials said the fire began when a cigarette ignited items in a receptacle on the front porch. The fire then spread through an open door early in the morning of Nov. 1.

The fire was reported at about 7:15 a.m. Six people sleeping on the second and third floors died: tenants David Bragdon Jr., 27, Ashley Thomas, 29, and Nicole Finlay, 26, city resident Christopher Conlee, 25, and Topsham resident Maelisha Jackson, 26, all died from smoke inhalation at the scene, according to the state Office of the Medical Examiner.

Rockland resident Steven Summers, 29, escaped the blaze, but suffered burns on 98 percent of his body, according to a wrongful death lawsuit filed by Summers’ widow, Ashley Summers. He died Nov. 4 at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

The full fire investigation has not been publicly released because it has been referred to the office of Cumberland County District Attorney Stephanie Anderson for a possible criminal investigation.

“The cause itself is not criminal in nature,” LaMoria said, although he added “there were blocked exits in the home and no evidence of a working smoke alarm.”

In the days leading to the release of the report, the parents of Bragdon and Finlay filed wrongful death lawsuits in Cumberland County Superior Court. Four such suits have now been filed against Nisbet, each claiming his negligence in failing to respond to complaints about inoperable smoke alarms and allowing a second-floor staircase to be blocked by a bookshelf.

Affidavits filed with the suits say tenant Nathan Long, who survived the fire, tried to move the bookshelf to provide an escape route for the upstairs tenants.

Bragdon’s parents, David Bragdon Sr. of Rockland, and Pamela Rhodus of Littleton, Colorado, sued Nisbet Jan. 21, seeking at least $3.9 million in damages based on their son’s potential future earnings as an electrician.

His parents said Bragdon had completed much of the class and field work needed and hoped to have his journeyman license early next year.

Finlay’s mother, Lisa LeConte Mazziotti, of Westbrook, is seeking at least $1.7 million in damages, also based largely on her daughter’s anticipated future earnings of at least $25,000 a year.

Ashley Summers filed the first lawsuit Nov. 21, 2014. Nikki J. and Louis Thomas Jr., of Gilford, New Hampshire, the parents of Ashley Thompson, filed a $2 million suit Jan. 6.

The suits share affidavits from Paul Garrido, a visitor who escaped the fire and former tenant Shanna Fratini, who told Summers’ attorney Tom Hallett she moved from the home because of dangerous conditions Nisbet did not address.

The suit filed by Mazziotti also alleges Nisbet illegally rented the third-floor room to her, a code violation because the room lacked two exits. According to the suits, Finlay and Thomas both died in the third-floor bedroom they rented.

The application for a demolition permit sought by Nisbet is now under review by the city, and was filed on his behalf Jan. 22 by South Portland contractor Edward Benjamin. The permit seeks to raze the building to the cellar cap, with work expected to take two to four days and within 60 days of city approval of the permit.

Benjamin also circulated a Jan. 14 letter to neighbors about the plans.

“Our intentions are to have this site removed as fast as possible in a neighborly manner,” he told them.

While Nisbet reached an agreement with 10 tenants of the home he owns at 186 Dartmouth St., about two blocks from the fire scene, for them to move out by Feb. 15, the city still wants him to correct problems cited Dec. 17, 2014, found in an inspection two days earlier.

David Chamberlain, who represents Nisbet in the eviction matter, said Jan. 13 the problems found Dec. 15, 2014, by Fire Department Capt. David Petrucelli and Code Enforcement Officer Chuck Fagone in response to tenant complaints were caused by the tenants.

A Jan. 22 letter from city Assistant Corporation Counsel Adam Lee told Nisbet he still must address the lack of a fire alarm system in the home, the lack of secondary escape routes from bedrooms and living areas, a blocked rear exit, and the accumulation of “garbage, rubbish and debris” in the building.

David Harry can be reached at 781-3661 ext. 110 or dharry@theforecaster.net. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidHarry8.

Sidebar Elements


The Nov. 1, 2014, fire that destroyed this building at 20-24 Noyes St. in Portland and killed six people was caused by “improperly discarded smoking material,” according to a report released Jan. 21 by the state fire marshal’s office.

Ashley Summers, left, the widow of fire victim Steven Summers, and her attorney, Tom Hallett, said Jan. 21 a finding there were no working smoke detectors at 20-24 Noyes St. in Portland bolsters their wrongful death lawsuit against building owner Greg Nisbet.

Portland Fire Chief Jerome LaMoria said Jan. 21 the full report on the cause of a Nov. 1, 2014, fire on Noyes Street that killed six people has been forwarded to the Cumberland County district attorney for a possible criminal investigation.

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Portland City Hall reporter for The Forecaster. Baltimore native, lived in Maine since 1989. A journalist since 2005, covering much of Cumberland and York counties. I joined The Forecaster in 2012.