Friday, April 20th, 2018

Noyes Street fire memorial approved by committee

Sam Hill

Posted on October 28, 2015 in News
By Krysteana Scribner

On November 1, 2014, a fire engulfed a two family home on 20 Noyes Street killing six people. In the aftermath of the tragic event, some people in the local community have proposed a memorial for the victims: six diamonds comprised of small blue lights with a white orb in the center. However, recent neighborhood objections have come up, leaving the possibility of this memorial in the hands of the city’s arts committee.

Ashley Summers is a member of the coordinator committee for the Noyes St. fire memorial and wife of Steven Summers, who died tragically in the fire last year.

“The committee has been working hard since January, so over the past nine months has kept herself busy to not focus on the bad thoughts.” said Summers. “She has been one of the leading team members to get the “Starts of Light” memorial off the ground and into the trees of Longfellow park.

Summers said the team worked together with city officials and worked on the installation of electricity, but it wasn’t long before problems arose. Her team was able to raise $8,000 and install the lighting system in the park, but a day later she heard rumoured complaints from her neighbors who wanted the display taken down.

Summers said when her committee attempted to address the problematic situation, city officials accused the group of not following process. She stated that it should have gone before the committee months ago, and that it just wasn’t an acceptable answer for her.

“A few neighbors ganged up against us because they don’t want the lights in the park, but they are just contacting the city alone,” said Summers. “They are telling people they don’t want to change the nature of the park, but these lights will be in the tree’s above the park – it’s not changing the landscape. I mean, every other park in Portland has electricity.”

“When I heard it was USM faculty member Laurie Davis who was the leader of this anti-memorial group,  I couldn’t believe it. One of her jobs is to connect young people,” said Summers. “It upsets me to know they will say these hateful things about our way of memorializing our families and hide their names and faces from the public. The worst part is, these people are elected officials and they know what they’re doing is wrong.”

Davis was unavailable for comment on her point of view, and city hall failed to respond to our request for information on the subject matter.

Portland local Layne Waddell was extremely close with each of the victims who died in the fire. Although he believes the idea of the lights would be a great way to memorialize the lives of each victim, he’s not advocating for their installation.

“I would love to see [the lights] go up, but I personally memorialize my friends in my own ways so I suppose it wouldn’t make much of a difference if they went up or not,” said Waddell.  “I just am trying very hard to put this behind me and move on. They were all like family to me which is why it’s tough to talk about them.

What Waddell would like to see happen is to see some lights  near the tragic scene: something to brighten up the dump that they have left sitting there. She said that in the summer, it would also be a great idea to have a community garden there.

In an email exchange between occupants of Noyes Street and the City Arts Committee, many neighbors expressed concern on the idea that lights would, “intrusively be shining into their living rooms, dining rooms, and bedrooms from dusk to late evening every day.”

One member of the email exchange claimed there has been no neighborhood notice of changes to the park despite what claims made on channel 8 broadcast, saying, “there has been NO information provided and NO meetings have been held.”

Portland local April Quebedeaux, who knew three of the victims of the tragedy, can’t understand why they don’t complain about seeing the burnt down piece of property, but have a problem with six lights to help family and friends grieve.

“For them to say that it would ruin the parks character? I mean, what character? It’s a dinky park behind a gas station. Why not add some beautiful lights that many would love and support. It’s absolutely crazy.”

Portland local Marji Swanson only briefly knew Chris Conlee, one of the victims of the fire that engulfed the building on Noyes Street that night, but believes the memorial lights seem harmless.

“I didn’t know him long or well, but still felt heavy when the names of the victims were released,” said Swanson. “I’m unsure why people would want to stop something that shows support for the victims friends and families.”

The panel finally approved the memorial on late Friday evening, just in time for the one year anniversary. The installation can only be up for 90 days, and will only be lit up from dusk to 9:00 p.m.

According to a survivor who spoke on condition of anonymity, hardly a day has gone by since the fire at Noyes street. He explained that, “My opinion on a dispute over the lighting system in the park would be inappropriate,” but does have one thing he wants people to know.

“I treat my life differently. I check smoke detectors. I pay more money to avoid living next to a party house. I hope that regulations might change so that those six people might have had another way out,” said the anonymous survivor. “I hope that Maine actually funds it’s fire inspection system, so that properties with quite so many flagrant violations might not go unnoticed for quite so long. Thus far nothing has changed.”

A memorial celebration is planned for November 1 at 4:30 p.m.  at the park. A reception will follow at HopeGateWay on 509 Forest Avenue.

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