It’s too soon to fix the blame for the horrific fire that killed six young adults in Portland this month, but not too soon to start taking steps to prevent other deadly fires in a city full of old buildings similar to the one at 20 Noyes St.

A newly appointed city task force should evaluate how well Portland’s fire prevention efforts stand up to what’s done in other cities and whether Portland is using its resources wisely. It should also explore ways to help landlords pay for safety improvements and develop a system for fire inspection records that would protect tenants and put the owners of problem buildings on the spot.

This much we do know: On the morning of Nov. 1, the duplex in Portland’s university district was engulfed in flames by the time firefighters arrived at the scene. Five people inside the house were killed by smoke inhalation. One more jumped from an upper floor and was taken to a burn unit in Boston, where he died three days later.

We also know that the building had been subject to 16 complaint-based code enforcement inspections since 2003, for violations such as combustible debris on the porch and trash in the hallways. Investigators also checked out a complaint about an illegal third-floor apartment, but it is unclear from the inspection records released last week what they found.

A record like that leading up to a fire is troubling, but the building is hardly unique. The city has put the owners of 300 Portland buildings on notice for fire code violations. And the overworked inspectors at the Portland Fire Department, who have been told to focus on speeding up the permit process for new buildings, are far behind on scheduled inspections of existing buildings. There is no telling whether any of these structures is capable of being the next 20 Noyes St.

For obvious reasons, Portland spends far more on putting out fires than it does on preventing them. Firefighting equipment is expensive, and so is training personnel and keeping them on hand 24 hours a day. But the horrific blaze on Noyes Street shows that even the best-equipped firefighters can do only so much.

The task force should determine whether the Fire Department is using enough of its resources for prevention, and whether there is a way to stay adequately prepared for fighting fires while keeping up to date with inspections and enforcement actions.

More frequent inspections would put more pressure on landlords, who are mostly small-business people operating with very low profit margins. They can be ordered to make thousands of dollars in improvements, like adding steel doors or fire escapes, but if the property owners can’t afford to do the work, frequent inspections won’t do much good. Portland should not let a new vigilance for fire safety put families on the street because their landlords can’t afford compliance.

Instead, the city should consider a low-cost loan program that would help landlords make the improvements they need to make their buildings safe.

Now that we have been reminded of what is at stake, the city should not miss this opportunity to do everything it can to prevent fires like the one at 20 Noyes St.