Portland promises reviews after deadly Noyes St. fire

  • Mail this page!
  • Delicious
  • 0

PORTLAND — City officials have promised a full review of housing codes, ordinances and inspection policies in the wake of Portland’s deadliest fire in more than 50 years.

The early morning Nov. 1 fire at 20-24 Noyes St. killed six people, five of whom died from smoke inhalation on the second and third floors, according to Maine Department of Public Safety spokesman Steve McCausland.

Tenants David Bragdon Jr., 27, Ashley Thomas, 29, and Nicole Finlay, 26; city resident Christopher Conlee, 25, and Topsham resident Maelisha Jackson, 26, died in the Saturday-morning blaze, according to McCausland and City Fire Chief Jerome LaMoria.

On Nov. 4, Steven Summers, 29, of Rockland, died at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, where he was being treated for burns. Summers escaped by jumping out a second-floor window, McCausland said.

The fire was the worst in Portland since a 1963 blaze killed six children on Gilman Place in the city’s West End.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation by the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the state fire marshal’s office, and city authorities. While the probe continues, acting City Manager Sheila Hill-Christian announced Friday, Nov. 7 that she is asking her staff to review city codes and ordinances.

City Hall spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said the city will also establish a task force to review fire and code inspection policies. The task force will be composed of staff  from city Fire, Police, Inspections, Social Services, and Corporation Counsel departments, and a local landlord association. 

The task force will also seek “technical assistance from other cities that have been through similar events,” Grondin said.

The city also released a log of 16 complaints dating to 2003 about conditions at 20-24 Noyes St. during its ownership by Gregory Nisbet, who lives at 124 Noyes St.

Many of the complaints to the city Inspections Division echo those made by neighbors in the aftermath of the fire about accumulated trash and poor sanitary conditions on the property. No complaints were logged between Oct. 14, 2005, and June 7, 2011.

Among recent complaints were two on Aug. 30, 2012, and Sept. 6, 2012, that claimed Nisbet had added dwelling units on the third floor in possible violation of city codes.

A response log from inspector George Froelich indicated there was a cleanup in response to a companion complaint about accumulated trash, but no action on the third-floor dwellings. Grondin did not comment on any city action regarding the third-floor dwellings because of the ongoing investigation.

The most recent complaints about 20-24 Noyes St. came last June 6 and June 9 regarding trash, rodent infestation outside the home, and two derelict vehicles in the driveway. City records indicate the problems were corrected and building residents were warned about potential citations because of violations.

The complaint logs are also part of the investigation and had been turned over to the state fire marshal’s office before they were released on Nov. 7.

Grondin said there are three code inspectors who handle complaints about land use, building, plumbing, and electrical inspections, while one inspector investigates citizen complaints about trash, disorderly properties, outdoor dining, hoarders or illegal units.

“Complaints are prioritized based on life-safety hazards,” Grondin said. “More than 850 inspections have been performed in the last year as a result of complaints.”

Grondin added the most recent U.S. Census data shows more than half the city’s residents are renters.

Nisbet owns three properties besides 20-24 Noyes St., according to city tax records. One is the residence he lists as his home at 124 Noyes St.; the others are at 186-192 and 181-187 Dartmouth St., which runs parallel to Noyes Street one block away.

Grondin did not respond to inquiries about inspections at Nisbet’s other properties.

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

0
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.