Four pumpkins sit on the dilapidated foundation of the Noyes Street house where a fire killed six people in November 2014.

One reads “SMILES 4 NOYES.” Another bears the image of a tree. And the block letters on the smallest pumpkin read “RMBR NOYES.”

The carvings are fresh, but the rest of the property is overgrown and strewn with debris. As the third anniversary of the deadly fire approaches, a neighbor lodged a complaint about the condition of the lot. On Tuesday, Portland sent a crew to clean up the outskirts of the property.

But city officials cannot force the owner to take action based on appearance alone. As Gregory Nisbet continues to fight jail time and wrongful death lawsuits related to the fire, the property itself remains mostly untouched.

“It’s that feeling of despair that you have to be reminded that this horrendous tragedy happened that took six lives,” said Carol Schiller, who wrote the complaint.

FIRE-RELATED COURT CASES CONTINUE

The apartment building at 20-24 Noyes St. caught fire in the early hours of Nov. 1, 2014. Investigators said the blaze started on the front porch in a plastic receptacle for cigarette butts and spread quickly through the building. There were no working smoke detectors, and flames blocked a stairwell that might have allowed the people inside to escape. It was the deadliest fire in Portland in four decades.

The victims were Nicole “Nikki” Finlay, 26; David Bragdon Jr., 27; Ashley Thomas, 29; Maelisha Jackson, 23, of Topsham; Steven Summers, 29, of Rockland; and Christopher Conlee, 25, of Portland. Bragdon, Finlay and Thomas were tenants. Jackson, Summers and Conlee were visiting the house for a Halloween party.

In October 2016, a Superior Court justice acquitted Nisbet on six charges of manslaughter in their deaths. Nisbet was found guilty of a misdemeanor fire code violation for the lack of a secondary exit from the third-floor bedrooms. He was sentenced to three months in jail but has yet to serve them pending the appeals.

A judge rejected his motion for a new trial last summer, and Nisbet appealed to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. However, Nisbet’s lawyers dropped out of his case last month because they were not being paid. Families of the victims also filed wrongful death lawsuits, which are pending.

A judge froze Nisbet’s real estate assets in 2014 in case they were needed to pay out any future claims to the families of victims. After the fire, the city set up a new Housing Safety Office and hired more inspectors. Many landlords are now required to register their units and pay an annual fee.

Today, the stone foundation is all that remains of the house. The burned-out structure has been demolished. Schiller, who lives on Longfellow Street, said there was some effort to clean up the property after the fire, but she hasn’t seen anyone working there since. In an Oct. 18 letter to City Arborist Jeff Tarling, Schiller said the lot has a negative impact on the neighborhood.

She asked the city to address debris and damaged trees in the area between the sidewalk and the street, which is public property. But she also asked Tarling to clean up the brush and trash inside the private property lines.

“It is littered with brush, overgrown, (has) trash and is a blight that weighs heavily on residents,” Schiller wrote. Neighbors have also noticed an increase in rodents, she said.

CITY LIMITED ON ADDRESSING CONDITIONS

On Tuesday, the city removed two dying trees next to the street. City spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said a crew will return to mow the grass in that area before the anniversary of the fire.

“However, the other vegetation on the site is private property and will need to be addressed by the property owner,” Grondin said. “We do not have an ordinance on the books that discusses the look of overgrown vegetation and grass, so we cannot force the owner to do this.”

If overgrown vegetation causes a safety hazard and the owner is not responsive, the city hires a contractor to do the work and then bills the owner. Grondin said the city determined there is no safety hazard on the lot at Noyes Street that warrants that action.

Nisbet still owns 20-24 Noyes St., but the city has placed a lien on the real estate because of overdue property taxes. A tax statement provided by the city shows he currently owes more than $5,600 for 2016, 2017 and the first half of 2018.

Nisbet did not respond to a message left at his office or an email Tuesday evening.

City arborist Jacob Rhinebolt removes two dead trees from the Noyes Street lot Tuesday. A crew will return to mow some grass before the Nov. 1 fire anniversary, but the city lacks the rights to access and trim vegetation. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

Schiller said she was disappointed that more could not be done.

“Why has he neglected it all this time?” Schiller said. “He’s never showed face, gone over, done the right thing and cleaned up this property.”

PROPERTY’S FUTURE, FIRE SAFETY EVENT

Schiller mentioned the carved pumpkins, which she said have become an annual memorial. She said she hopes the property can someday become a park or a memorial for the victims of the fire.

“There’s no ordinance that mandates anything has to be done at that property, but it just seems like human decency,” Schiller said.

In anticipation of the fire anniversary next week, the University Neighborhood Association and Phi Mu Delta Fraternity from the University of Southern Maine will host a fire prevention event Saturday in nearby Longfellow Park. Schiller, one of the organizers, said participants will include the American Red Cross, the Portland Fire Department, the Maine Medical Center Burn Unit and other organizations. The day will include demonstrations on fire safety, as well as a Halloween costume parade for kids. That event will last from 11:30 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

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Twitter: megan_e_doyle