The Cumberland County district attorney is likely to pursue criminal charges against the owner of the building in Portland where the state’s deadliest fire in 40 years killed six young people in November, according to a deputy fire chief and the state fire marshal.

Keith Gautreau, Portland’s acting deputy chief for fire prevention and community outreach, told the City Council’s Public Safety, Health and Human Services Committee on Tuesday night that fire investigators met with the district attorney Friday to discuss possible charges against Gregory Nisbet, who owns 20-24 Noyes St.

“It is my understanding they will be proceeding with some prosecution,” Gautreau told the committee, which received recommendations Tuesday from a fire safety task force that has been studying ways to beef up the city’s housing inspection program.

District Attorney Stephanie Anderson could not be reached for comment Tuesday night, nor could John Veilleux, the attorney representing Nisbet in lawsuits filed by victims’ families in connection with the Noyes Street fire.

After Tuesday’s committee meeting, Gautreau, the fire department’s appointee to the task force, said he attended the meeting with the district attorney Friday, but had to leave early so his comments to the committee were based on a follow-up phone conversation with the state Fire Marshal’s Office.

Fire officials said the fire on Nov. 1 was caused by a cigarette butt placed in a receptacle that was not being used properly.

Gautreau said the fire went undetected for a “considerable amount of time.” The discarded cigarette was outside the building, on a porch, and the fire started early on a Saturday morning, after a night of “partying and drinking,” he said. Smoke detectors had been disabled by tenants, and a rear exit was blocked.

Although the fire was deemed accidental, the case was forwarded to the district attorney because fire officials believe the property was being operated as a rooming house, where tenants rent individual rooms rather than leasing the entire apartment. The legal use of the property is as a two-family unit.

Maine Fire Marshal Joe Thomas said Tuesday night that two of his investigators attended Friday’s meeting and “there was a very good likelihood (the district) could see some criminality in the violations we cited in the report.” Thomas said the state’s life safety code, which requires all rental units to have functional smoke detectors and requires additional safety measures for rooming houses, is a criminal statute.

Sgt. Joel Davis of the Fire Marshal’s Office said it is premature to discuss possible charges in the case.

“We met with the district attorney and presented our case,” he said. “They’re going to review that. They haven’t decided on any particular charges.”

Davis would not elaborate on the status of the investigation but said investigators have more work to do.

Nisbet has also come under fire for another property he owns, at 186-188 Dartmouth St. in Portland. Tenants at 188 Dartmouth St. complained about their living conditions after the fire on Noyes Street.

The city inspected the property on Dec. 15 and cited numerous violations. Inspectors allege that the building was also being run as a rooming house because tenants had individual rental agreements with Nisbet and had placed locks on the outsides of their bedroom doors.

Nisbet did not abide by the city’s deadline of Feb. 2 to correct the violations. Over that period of time, the tenants were evicted and the apartment was apparently taken over by squatters as living conditions deteriorated.

After the Portland Press Herald reported on the conditions, the city condemned 188 Dartmouth St. on Friday and boarded it up. Tenants at 186 Dartmouth St. were allowed to stay.

Randy Billings can be contacted at 791-6346 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: @randybillings