Portland Residents Gather to Mark Anniversary of Tragic Fire
PORTLAND, Maine – A year after a fire took the lives of six people in Portland’s Oakdale neighborhood, about 200 people gathered at a park near the location of the tragedy on Sunday afternoon to remember those lost.
Family, friends, neighbors and city officials filled Longfellow Park to celebrate the lives of the six young men and women killed in last year's blaze on Noyes Street.
Those gathered honored the victims by illuminating six "Stars of Light" in a tree — purple and white light sculptures designed by Portland artist Pandora LaCasse.
Last year, David Bragdon Jr., Christopher Conlee, Nicole Finlay, Maelisha Jackson and Ashley Thomas were all trapped inside the three-story house on Noyes Street and died from smoke inhalation. Steven Summers escaped, but died four days later.
At the gathering, family members presented a tribute to each person who lost their life.
"It's weird because I'm here everyday — I live in the city," says Lisa Lessard of Portland, who was a friend of Ashley Thomas and other victims and was at the gathering with friends. "And a lot of our friends that we have are friends with her. I know it's different for all of us. Some of us want to go to the house, some of us don't want to see it."
"In one way or another, we have all been affected by this terrible tragedy in our neighborhood a year ago," says Allen Ewing-Merrill, pastor at nearby Hope Gateway Church who helped organize the event. "Anniversaries are complicated. And so as we mark the passing of one year, it's really important that we are here in this place to remember to mark this day and this space as sacred. To continue to comfort one another, to share our hearts with one another, and to celebrate the hope and peace and strength that is within each one of us."
Lou Thomas gave a tribute to his daughter, Ashley Thomas.
"I don't think there is a person that I know of — or Ashley knew — that didn't love her, or like her," he says. "She could bring out confidence in people, she could bring out the best in everybody."
"He was a very industrious person and he had a lot of dreams," says Larry Summers about his son Stephen Summers. "And it's hard to see someone like that leave so soon."
"Today marks the one year that my girls have not seen their father," says Ashley Summers, who was Stephen's Summers' wife. "Although they understand it's not Daddy's choosing, I can't take that pain away. Words cannot express how much we all miss you — your voice, your smile, your charisma, and most of all, your persistence."
There were no working smoke detectors inside the building where six lived, and some of the rooms did not have alternative exits. One of the main exits was blocked by a bookcase.
Portland officials have adopted new policies since the Noyes Street fire, including the creation of a new housing officer position tasked with ensuring the safety of the city's rental housing.
The fire also also resulted in civil and criminal charges against the building's owner, Gregory Nisbet. Nisbet also faces civil wrongful death lawsuits.