Five young adults died in an early morning fire Saturday at an apartment building on Noyes Street in Portland near the University of Southern Maine. It was Maine’s deadliest house fire in 30 years.

Portland Fire Chief Jerry LaMoria said the investigation into the cause of the fire and the identification of the victims will take time.

“This investigation will last until it ends and that could be several days,” LaMoria said. “With the amount of agencies involved, the extent of the damage and the number of victims, there are a lot of parts to this investigation.”

At a news conference late Saturday afternoon, state and city officials said they had recovered five bodies from 20 Noyes St.

One young man injured in the blaze suffered severe burns and was transported to a Boston hospital, where he was listed in critical condition. He escaped the fire by jumping from a second-story window.

The fifth body was found late Saturday afternoon inside the apartment house after state fire marshals inspected the building.


“I’d like to express our deepest sympathies. This is an enormous tragedy for our community,” LaMoria said. “We’re doing all we can to bring closure to the families.”

State Fire Marshal Joe Thomas said in an interview Saturday night that eyewitnesses told investigators the fire appeared to have started outside the house on the front porch. Investigators on Sunday morning will bring in a dog to see if any accelerants were used, he said.

City spokeswoman Jessica Grondin also said officials were looking through records at City Hall to determine whether there is a history of safety or code violations at the apartment house, at 20-24 Noyes St. Those records are not available online, and Grondin said they are part of what could become a criminal investigation. She said the State Fire Marshal’s Office would not allow her to release them.

The owner of the building, Gregory Nisbet, said late Saturday that he was “horribly devastated by what’s going on,” then released a brief written statement that said, “Our hearts go out to the friends and the families of all the lost and injured.”

Nisbet added that “we are working closely with the fire and police to aid in the investigation,” although LaMoria said Saturday that investigators had not yet talked to him. Nisbet would not take any questions during a brief telephone interview.

The fire broke out shortly after 7 a.m. Saturday in the two-family apartment house, which neighbors have complained hasn’t been maintained well for years.


There were six tenants of the apartment at 20 Noyes St. and two escaped the fire. All of those who perished died in the apartment at 20 Noyes St., authorities said.

None of those who died are believed to have been USM students, according to Stephen McCausland, a spokesman for the Maine Department of Public Safety, but officials were not ready to identify them Saturday night.

Firefighters and investigators were unable to enter the house for hours after the fire was reported at 7:17 a.m.

Flames could be seen shooting out of the roof during the height of the blaze and by midday, bystanders – many of them from the neighborhood – surrounded the scene.

Seven people escaped without injury, McCausland said.



One of them was Nathan Long, who said he woke up to the smell of smoke when his alarm went off around 7 a.m.

Long, who said he didn’t hear any smoke or fire alarms going off, said he yelled “Fire!” and ran to the back of the house, where another tenant was opening a window. They both jumped onto a porch roof and then down to the ground, where he saw the badly burned body of another tenant.

“I feel pretty lucky. I’m kind of numb,” said Long, who was at a family support center set up in a nearby University of Southern Maine building on Saturday afternoon.

Long confirmed that he and five other people lived at 20 Noyes St., which is attached to 24 Noyes St. He said he doesn’t know the fate of his roommates beyond the one he escaped with. He also said several people he didn’t know were staying overnight in the apartment.

Long said he was told that all the people who lived at 24 Noyes St. were accounted for.

Carol Schiller, president of the University Neighborhood Organization, said the property has been rundown for some time and she emailed the city in May, asking for it to be inspected because of the debris outside.


She said the city told her a fire inspector had been assigned the case, but she doesn’t know what the outcome was.

Schiller said the apartments were often the scene of rowdy parties, but that the current tenants were a little more considerate and outgoing than previous ones. Still, the house remained unkempt.

Schiller said she and others in the neighborhood often tried to contact the owner, Nisbet, who lives a few blocks away on Noyes Street, but he never returned calls.

Friends of some of those who died gathered Saturday morning at the Great Lost Bear, a nearby restaurant on Forest Avenue. They said some of the young people who lived in the house worked at the restaurant.

Lily Dickson of Portland, a waitress at the Great Lost Bear, said she was friends with some of those who died. She said the house was known as a party house where employees of the restaurant would hang out after work.

Barbara Libby of Long Island was among those watching firefighters douse the flames and said her son had once been a tenant of the building.


“I was relieved when he moved,” she said, describing the hallways as filled with debris. She said she doubted there were adequate smoke and fire detectors in the building and said one bedroom had only one window, which would have been too small to climb through.

Those at the restaurant said they know the names of those who died, but officials had not yet confirmed any identities.

The building is listed in city records as a two-story, two-family structure with a finished attic. It was built in 1920, is owned by Nisbet and is valued at $379,000.

The family support center was set up at USM’s Woodbury Center.

The news media were barred from the center, but Joshua Hunter Lutinski of Westbrook, who said he is a friend of one of the two female tenants of 20 Noyes St., said the mood was somber inside.

“No one is speaking,” he said, as friends and family members waited for word about their loved ones.

Mayor Michael Brennan and Police Chief Michael Sauschuck stopped by the center early Saturday afternoon.

McCausland said Saturday’s fire in Portland was the worst house fire in the state since Sept. 20, 1984, when a fire in a house in Hartland killed an adult and four children.


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