- Associated Press - Wednesday, January 21, 2015

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) - Cigarette butts that had been discarded in a plastic receptacle ignited a post-Halloween party fire that killed six people - Maine’s worst fire in 40 years, officials said Wednesday.

The accidental fire started on a wooden porch with flammable items like furniture and recycling containers before spreading into the apartment house in Portland, said Maine Fire Marshal Joe Thomas. There were no working smoke detectors to warn residents when flames spread inside, officials said.

The fire killed residents Nicole Finlay, David Bragdon Jr., Ashley Thomas and Christopher Conlee; Topsham resident Maelisha Jackson; and Rockland resident Steven Summers. Several others escaped.

“At the end of the day, I don’t have Steven,” said Summers’ wife, Ashley Summers. “There are a lot of families that are heartbroken.”

The fire started early on Nov. 1 while several partygoers slept over. Officials didn’t place the blame for the fire on a specific partygoer and said it’s possible they’ll never know exactly whose cigarettes started the blaze.

The fire marshal said smokers who lived in the duplex regularly smoked on the porch and discarded their cigarette butts in the tall plastic receptacle designed for that purpose. If not regularly emptied, the receptacle could allow butts and paper to build up, creating the potential for a fire, he said.

Even though the cause of the fire is not criminal, Portland Fire Chief Jerome LaMoria said the report will go to the district attorney’s office, which will consider whether the building met all regulations.

The conditions that led to the fire are “a perfect example of the things that people do not heed that contribute to the safety of their homes and their families,” Joe Thomas said.

The cause of the fire was confirmed by computer modeling by Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which was asked to assist in the investigation.

The deadly blaze led to legal action and to the creation of a task force that met with landlords, tenants and the Portland Housing Authority to come up with recommendations for safety improvements.

The house had a history of code violations, city officials have said. House owner Gregory Nisbet didn’t return a call seeking comment. The city is also investigating whether other houses Nisbet owns in the neighborhood are safe.


Associated Press writer David Sharp in Portland contributed to this story.

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