Of the six people killed in a Nov. 1 apartment building fire in Portland, Steven Summers was the only one to leave behind a spouse and children.

But he also was the only one to get out of the burning building and survive for several days afterward, and his widow says she is grateful for the chance to say goodbye.

“I know he heard everything I said,” said Ashley Summers, whose last words to her husband of nearly seven years were “I love you.”

“As hard as those images are, I am so thankful for them,” she added. “I don’t know what I would have done if I had just got a phone call.”

The families and friends of the others killed in Maine’s deadliest fire in 40 years – David Bragdon Jr., 27; two other tenants at 20 Noyes St., Ashley Thomas, 29, and Nicole “Nikki” Finlay, 26; and two other houseguests, Christopher Conlee, 25, and Maelisha Jackson, 26 – did not get an opportunity to say goodbye.

The emotional healing process for these families is complicated by the amount of media attention and unanswered questions surrounding the Nov. 1 fire, including whether the landlord ignored complaints about the safety of the building. An investigation into the cause is continuing and the city has formed a task force to examine housing safety.

Unlike the others, Steven Summers is the only victim to have left behind a wife and two young children, and his family was the first to file a lawsuit against the landlord, Gregory Nisbet.

“When I walk by these (newspapers) not only does it bring up my emotion, but my older daughter’s,” Ashley Summers said. “She walked by one that had a big picture of his face and a picture of the house in flames. They know he’s gone, but at this point I don’t think they’re ready for that connection.”

Summers, 25, has been on leave from her job as a pipe-fitter at Bath Iron Works as she and her children go through grief counseling.

The family is suffering financially and emotionally. Summers said in an interview Dec. 17 she’s fallen behind on her rent and utility payments, and she hasn’t yet received any money from an online fundraising campaign set up to help the family with its expenses.

“Being hit off guard by his death and all of this other stuff behind it is just overwhelming,” she said.

The death has been particularly hard for the couple’s daughters.

Audryn Summers, 5, is shy, quiet and pretends to be OK, her mom said, even though she becomes emotional for no apparent reason. “She’s over-the-top happy, but extra emotional,” Summers said. “She’s crying at weird moments because she’s not allowing herself to cry in the moments we’re talking about it.”

Maliyah, 3, knows that she will never see her dad again, but she doesn’t truly understand why. Summers said she isn’t ready to explain that her dad died in a house fire, because she doesn’t want her daughters to be afraid to go to sleep at night.

“She thinks he left them and that kills me,” she said.

Steven Summers was severely burned in the fire and died Nov. 4 in a Boston hospital.

The family’s emotional and financial struggle has hit close to home for a Portland woman who witnessed the fire and saw Steven Summers run out of the burning building as he tried to put out the flames on himself. She has set up a new fund to help the Summers family.

Carol Schiller, who lives on Longfellow Street and saw Steven Summers in a “cocoon of flames,” helped his widow set up a new memorial fund at Key Bank. All of the funds donated to the new memorial will go to Ashley Summers and her children.

“For people who want to donate, they should feel good knowing that it’s going right to Ashley and her girls, who desperately need it,” said Schiller, who was inspired to help because her husband also died when their children were young.

“Life returns to normal very quickly for other people when you have suffered a loss and there you are, raising your kids alone and in isolation,” said Schiller, who met Ashley Summers when she organized a vigil for the fire victims. “I guess we share that.”

Ashley Summers met her husband, a Navy veteran, when he was stationed at the Brunswick Naval Air Station in 2008. They had met several times out on the town and one night he finally convinced her to give him her phone number. Once she did, she said, she was smitten.

She said her husband was athletic, creative and energetic. To his daughters, he was the “fun one,” she said.

“He loved life,” she said. “That’s something I noticed about all of the victims.”

The two were married three weeks after their first date during a small ceremony in Brunswick. Shortly after, he got a tattoo of her name on his chest. A few weeks later, she got one of his name and a heart.

When Steven Summers was in the burn unit in Boston, she could still make out her name on his chest, almost as though he had placed his hand there to protect it, she said.

The couple were separated for several months leading up to the fire, but they were trying to resolve their differences so they would be together, she said.

The last conversation she had with her husband was on Halloween. Their daughters were dressing up as Anna and Elsa from the movie “Frozen.” Ashley Summers had just taken a video of them singing the film’s anthem, “Let it Go.”

Steven Summers, a 29-year-old customer service representative at Boston Financial Data Services in Rockland who loved music, was going to Portland to visit a friend for the night and planned to pick up the girls first thing in the morning, she said.

Instead, a Topsham police officer arrived at the house that afternoon, telling her that her husband had been badly burned in a house fire and was taken to Massachusetts General by the LifeFlight helicopter. “You just never know what tomorrow brings,” she said.

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