PORTLAND — Maine’s deadliest year for fires since 1993 is prompting a campaign by public safety officials to raise fire safety awareness and remind residents that smoke detectors save lives.

Twenty-five people died in Maine fires in 2014 and five of the state’s 14 fatal blazes killed multiple people, including its deadliest in 40 years, a Nov. 1 fire on Noyes Street in Portland that killed six people.

Faulty smoke detectors may have played a role in all but two of the 25 deaths, State Fire Marshal Joseph Thomas told The Associated Press.

“Those are probably fatalities that don’t have to happen if we get people to pay attention to taking care of their smoke detectors,” he said.

Thomas said only about 40 percent of smoke detectors are in working order, even though close to 90 percent of people believe they have working smoke detectors in their homes. The most common problems are a lack of batteries or failure to maintain the devices, he said.

The American Red Cross and State Fire Marshal’s Office have partnered to distribute smoke and carbon monoxide detectors in Biddeford and Lewiston and have reached out to residents about their proper use, Thomas said.


The year’s high number of fire deaths stemmed from the fire in Portland and another in Caribou that claimed four lives.

The Portland fire killed Nicole Finlay, David Bragdon Jr., Ashley Thomas and Christopher Conlee, all of Portland; Maelisha Jackson, of Topsham; and Steven Summers, of Rockland. The cause is under investigation.

The two-unit apartment building had a history of code violations. City officials had responded to 16 complaints since 2003, including for improper storage of combustible materials and a possibly illegal third-floor unit.

Survivors of the fire said they didn’t hear any smoke alarms go off. Three people escaped by jumping out a second-story window after a tenant was awakened by his alarm clock and began yelling “fire.”

A former tenant, meanwhile, said in a sworn statement included in a civil lawsuit against the landlord, Gregory Nisbet, that a smoke detector was hanging off the wall and Nisbet did not respond to requests to have it fixed.

The city established a task force to review fire and code inspection policies after the fire. Public education, particularly among college students, is expected to be one of the key recommendations, as well as increasing the number of housing inspections.


Also, a group of renters is forming a tenant union to bring attention to housing issues in Portland, which has some of the oldest housing in New England and a very low vacancy rate.

The Nov. 20 Caribou fire killed Norma Skidgel and her children Mason, Madison and Trent Delisle. Investigators said they found a smoke detector inside the mobile home, but its battery had been removed.

“In this day and age, we are long beyond explaining to the public the life-saving qualities of a smoke detector,” said Maine State Police spokesman Stephen McCausland. “They are simple, they’re cheap and they work.”

Maine averaged about 17 fire deaths a year from 2000 to 2013, McCausland said. The lowest annual total during that period was nine in 2010. There were 27 fire deaths in 1993.

The state averaged 49 fire deaths per year from the 1950s to the 1970s, but use of smoke detectors, sprinkler systems and stronger builder codes lowered the number, he said.

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