A fire in November on Noyes Street in Portland that killed six people was caused by discarded cigarette butts that ignited a building that had no working smoke detectors, investigators said Wednesday.

Now, four lawsuits have been filed against the building’s owner on behalf of the victims, while a fifth is pending.

Portland Fire Chief Jerome LaMoria said Wednesday morning that a cigarette butt discarded into a plastic receptacle started the fire at 20-24 Noyes St. and that the building had no working smoke detectors, which might have alerted the residents sleeping inside.

Five people died of smoke inhalation on the second and third floors of the duplex. A sixth leapt from the building but was badly burned and later died of his injuries.

“Because of the location of the fire and the time of day, the fire grew in intensity undetected,” LaMoria said.

Ashley Summers, whose husband, Steven Summers, died in the fire, attended Wednesday’s news conference at City Hall. She said the investigative results confirmed what she had learned about the fire.


“We all kind of knew from the get-go something was not quite right,” she said. “If those alarms would have gone off, they (residents and visitors) would have got out.”

She said she faults the landlord, Gregory Nisbet, with not making sure the smoke alarms were working and that the building was otherwise safe.

“The codes aren’t incredibly strenuous. They shouldn’t be that hard to keep up with,” she said, adding she hopes landlords and tenants will learn from the tragedy and take steps to make sure their buildings are safe.

Her husband’s death deprived his two children, 3 and 5, of their father and they still can’t comprehend what happened to him, Summers said.

“They’re not ready to know exactly what happened. In a few years, I’m going to have to go through this again,” she said.

Summers’ attorney, Thomas Hallett, said the conclusion of the investigation will not change the nature of the lawsuit Summers has brought against Nisbet.


LaMoria announced the results of the investigation after learning that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives had confirmed investigators’ theory of the fire. The complete investigation was not released because it will be turned over to prosecutors to determine whether to bring any criminal charges.

“While the actual cause is not criminal, the full report is being forwarded to the District Attorney’s Office for review,” he said.

Prosecutors will be looking at whether the building’s occupancy or the management of the property represents any criminal liability.

The most common cause of fire deaths in the United States is improperly discarded smoking materials, LaMoria said.

State Fire Marshal Joe Thomas said that while the fire was accidental, human actions contributed to its start and to its severity.

The smoke detectors had been disabled, he said. The front door was left open, allowing the fire to spread quickly inside the house and block the front doorway.


Thomas said Wednesday morning that the receptacle was a tall plastic hollow post designed for discarding cigarette butts. The metal can that is supposed to be at the base of the plastic cigarette butt container had been removed to be used as a second ashtray, allowing the plastic to ignite and melt on top of the wooden floor of the porch.

A blue plastic recyclables container, as well as possibly other debris, was located alongside the ash receptacle, he said. The couch and a chair on the porch also fueled the fire.

One of the exits leading from the second floor was blocked by furniture, he said. The three people who did escape climbed out a second-floor window.

The severity of the Noyes Street fire led the city to seek access to Nisbet’s other rental properties. Inspectors were unable initially to get voluntary access to the buildings, but obtained an inspection warrant Tuesday for 186-188 Dartmouth St. and 124 Noyes St. The buildings were inspected Tuesday and the city is now evaluating violations it found and necessary enforcement actions.

City officials said the investigative report will be used by the task force set up in the wake of the fire to review the city’s safety regimen for rental properties.

On Wednesday, a lawsuit was filed against Nisbet seeking $4 million on behalf of the family of David Bragdon Jr., a resident who was killed in the blaze. A statement by Bragdon’s father, David Bragdon Sr., said he was told his son was found near a second-floor window as if he had been trying to escape.

In addition to the lawsuit by Summers’ widow seeking $1.7 million in damages, the family of Ashley Thomas filed a lawsuit earlier this month seeking $2 million and the family of Nicole Finlay filed for $1.4 million.

An attorney representing the family of Christopher Conlee said he plans to bring suit some time in the next two weeks.

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