AUGUSTA — You don’t have to look much farther than the recent huge fire that  turned an apartment building on Northern Avenue into ashes and from which nearly two dozen tenants escaped with their lives to see the value of safety codes, officials say.

While some tenants were injured escaping from the flames, no one died in the massive Dec. 5 fire in Augusta. Authorities have said the building’s compliance with safety codes, including each unit having two exits and a smoke detector, were major factors in preventing any deaths. The cause has not been determined.

“The fire at 36 Northern Avenue, however unfortunate it was, is really a great example of what happens when your building complies with life safety codes,” said Amanda Bartlett, executive director of the Augusta Housing Authority, a quasi-municipal organization that helps area low-income residents find housing.

Bartlett said it was a much different outcome in Portland, where a Nov. 1 fire in an apartment building on Noyes Street killed six people and where authorities have said there were no working smoke detectors.

“That’s a great testament in the community to how life safety codes preserve life,” she said.

But those safety codes meant to keep tenants safe by preventing or at least limiting the impact of fires and other calamities in apartment buildings can be hard to understand for some landlords and others not used to deciphering regulatory language.

A forum designed to help landlords and rental property managers prevent fires and understand and comply with state and federal safety codes for existing buildings is planned for Wednesday in Augusta.

It will include fire prevention recommendations from representatives of the Augusta Fire Department and a presentation on safety codes for existing buildings by officials from the Office of State Fire Marshal.

Augusta Fire Chief Roger Audette said 2014 was the deadliest year for fires in Maine in two decades. Last year, 25 people died in fires in Maine, and non-functioning smoke detectors may have played a role in all but two of those, Audette said, echoing a previous statement by the state fire marshal. Audette said the city’s codes office has done a good job checking apartment buildings and working with landlords to bring buildings into compliance with codes and improve safety in the city.

“I’m happy this forum is in place. It will be a good opportunity for rental property owners and managers to listen to presentations about life safety codes and fire prevention,” Audette said.

The forum, from 3 to 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, will be in the lecture hall at Augusta City Center. The free presentation is sponsored by the Augusta Housing Authority, Waterville Housing Authority and MaineHousing as part of their new Healthy Housing Seminar Series. It was planned before the Northern Avenue and other recent fires in Augusta, but Bartlett noted the recent run of apartment building fires should make for heightened interest in the topic.

Bartlett said safety codes, which are adopted by the state but generally mirror federal standards that are periodically updated, can be confusing to some.

“Life safety codes can be complex, so it is difficult for the layperson to understand,” she said.

One of the biggest misunderstandings about codes, Bartlett said, is the owners of some existing buildings believe they are grandfathered from meeting current codes because of the age of their buildings.

They are not.

While existing buildings don’t have to meet the same codes as new buildings, they do, indeed, have to meet their own set of safety codes, no matter their age.

Those who wish to come to the fire safety forum are asked, but not required, to email Bartlett at [email protected] so organizers know how many people to expect.

Keith Edwards can be contacted at 621-5647 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: kedwardskj