Workers on Friday demolished the three-story house on Noyes Street in Portland that was the site of Maine’s deadliest fire in 40 years.

Six young adults were killed by the Nov. 1 blaze at 20-24 Noyes St., a two-unit apartment building just off Forest Avenue that officials say had no working smoke detectors and a back exit blocked by debris. A fire investigation report has been forwarded to the district attorney to determine if criminal charges are warranted.

The building that had stood at the corner of Noyes and Freeman streets since 1920 was reduced to rubble in a matter of hours, with the wood, bricks, metal piping and electrical wiring falling beneath the arm of an excavator as it grabbed and pulled apart the structure.

A half-burned pine tree by the porch where the fire started was leveled in a matter of seconds. Its dried needles wafted through the air like smoke.

Charred and splintered wood piled on top of the foundation and snow that surrounded the house as the excavator methodically crawled up the debris to reach deep into the building.

By late morning, the excavator was picking up debris and loading it into a large open truck trailer. The contractor expected to return Monday to continue the cleanup.

Still hanging outside the house between a tree and a stop sign were the prayer flags, each with the name of one of the six people who died. A Christmas wreath clung to a fence surrounding the building, but other memorials remaining at the site were buried beneath the snow.

Reminders of the victims’ lives were littered throughout the debris: a turquoise pair of women’s pants, still folded but charred, a glass Christmas ornament, a box of Cheerios with the word “smile” on it.

Neighbors came out into the frigid morning air to watch the demolition, some taking photos or videos with their phones. Some of them hope the site becomes a park to remember the victims.

“It’s very, very sad,” said Stuart Collins, 42, who works nearby on Forest Avenue and stopped when he saw the activity at the house. “I’m so glad it’s coming down. They shouldn’t rebuild it. It should be a park.”

Carol Schiller agreed. The president of the University Neighborhood Organization saw one victim escape the burning building, engulfed in a “cocoon of flames,” only to die later at a Boston hospital.

“People come here all the time, lost, like going to the cemetery,” Schiller said. “It’s a sacred place.”

Schiller had hoped to hold a vigil during the demolition, but no one was told in advance when the work would be done.

“(The deaths) could have been avoided,” said Schiller, who logged some of the 16 complaints against the building since 2003. “Ten years of complaining about it.”


Bob Turnbull of Benjamin Construction of South Portland, the demolition contractor, said he believes Gregory Nisbet, the building’s owner, plans to rebuild.

David Bragdon Jr., 27; Ashley Thomas, 29; Christopher Conlee, 25; Maelisha Jackson, 26; and Nicole “Nikki” Finlay, 26; died from smoke inhalation as fire swept through the three-story house on the morning after Halloween. Steven Summers, 29, jumped out of a window but was severely burned and died four days later.

Summers’ wife, Ashley, said she and her two young children are processing their grief one day at a time. Steven Summers had been visiting a friend and sleeping in the house when the fire began.

“It’s starting to sink in a little more,” Summers said in a phone interview. “Now life’s going back to normal, but it’s definitely not normal for the families.”

Summers, who lives in Rockland, was disappointed that advance notice was not provided so families and friends could pay their respects during the demolition.

“I did want to be there,” she said. “It was the last place he was. It’s kind of completing that process and trying to move on.”

Fire officials said the blaze was started by discarded smoking materials that ignited the building’s front porch. Three occupants survived by jumping out a second-story window.

At least four lawsuits have been filed against Nisbet on behalf of the victims. The fire investigation concluded that the property was being run as a rooming house, where tenants rent their rooms from the landlord rather than leasing the whole apartment. The district attorney is reviewing the investigators’ report to see whether criminal charges are warranted, since the legal use of the property is as a two-family home.

Tamara Getchell, the DA’s communications coordinator, said Friday that the case remained under consideration.


Nate Cresswell, who bought a home at 30 Noyes St. in April 2014, had mixed feelings about seeing the building torn down. The 34-year-old wondered what emotions the victims’ families were experiencing, as well as those who stop by on a regular basis to remember their friends.

“Honestly, we were expecting to see it sitting here for years,” said Cresswell, who was out of town when the fire occurred. “We’re glad to see it come down, because it’s a daily reminder of what happened.”

Matthew Gimache, 27, who lives on Dartmouth Street a short distance from the building, said the charred remains have been a haunting presence in the neighborhood. He walks by the house regularly when he smokes cigarettes and, although he didn’t know the people who died, he recalls seeing them hanging out on their porch. “It’s hard to look at,” he said.

Ashley Summers, meanwhile, said the demolition will be a good thing for the neighborhood. It may also help the families heal.

“I feel like it’s almost releasing them from that house,” she said. “They’re not trapped in there anymore.”