The families of two Biddeford men who died in a 2014 apartment fire have settled lawsuits against the landlord.

Michael Moore, 23, and his roommate and longtime friend James Ford, 21, were trapped in their apartment during the Sept. 18, 2014, fire and later died. An investigation revealed there were more than 20 safety violations in the Main Street building where they lived, according to the state Fire Marshal’s Office.

Moore died of smoke inhalation the day after being pulled unconscious from the apartment. Ford died 26 days after the fire, from the heat and toxins he inhaled.

Dylan Collins, who was charged with two counts of murder and two counts of arson, told investigators he lit the fire to scare an ex-girlfriend and that the two men were “collateral damage.” Collins, now 20, purchased a lighter and rubbing alcohol, purposely paying cash to avoid a record of the transaction, and used them to start the fire that trapped Moore and Ford in their third-floor apartment, according to court records.

The families of Moore and Ford filed lawsuits against building owner Nielsen Clark of Englewood, Florida, in June 2015. In the lawsuits, the families said the two young men searched frantically for an escape from their apartment as flames climbed the only staircase, but were unable to get out of a window. Their final moments were followed by Ford’s girlfriend, who had been communicating with him using a video chatting program at the time the fire started.

A court affidavit by a former investigator with the State Fire Marshal’s Office, Michael Keely, says Ford and Moore died because there was no second means of escape from their apartment as required under the National Fire Protection Association life safety code, and because there was no working smoke detector near the door of the apartment.

Investigators with the state Fire Marshal’s Office determined that the fire at 35 Main St. in Biddeford was intentionally set in a stairwell connecting the first and second floors of the 17-unit apartment building.

The building at 35 Main St. where the fire was intentionally set in a stairwell connecting the first and second floors.

“If the apartment was equipped with a second means of egress, as was required, it is almost certain that Ford and Moore would have escaped the building without injury or with minimal injury,” he said in the suit. Had there been a smoke alarm, Ford and Moore likely would have escaped down the stairway before the smoke got too thick to survive, though they may still have been badly injured in the process, Keely said.

The lawsuits were settled for a confidential amount and the cases have been formally dismissed at U.S. District Court in Portland. Attorney Michael Bigos of Berman & Simmons, who represented the families of the victims, said the lawsuits helped bring attention to the lack of safety code compliance by landlords across the state, as well as the need for better enforcement.

“These lawsuits were always about justice for the families of James and Michael. These good kids were loved by many in the community,” Bigos said. “But the families had a larger goal. We wanted to improve the housing safety of all people in Maine by bringing code enforcement compliance into the public spotlight. Tenants deserve safe housing and landlords who comply with fire and building codes, plus adequate oversight by towns and cities. By shining a light on flaws in the system, we achieved that goal.”

Bigos said Biddeford city officials, including staff at the Biddeford Codes Enforcement Office, deserve credit for responding swiftly and firmly to the tragedy. The city continues to crack down on landlords who are out of compliance and no one will be allowed to occupy the building at 35 Main St. until it is brought up to code, he said.

The criminal charges against Collins are pending and no trial date has been set, according to the Attorney General’s Office.

 


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