Maine fire victims included wedding photographer

AP News
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Posted: Nov 03, 2014 7:18 PM
Maine fire victims included wedding photographer

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) — Authorities on Monday identified four of the five people killed in a weekend house fire near the University of Southern Maine, including a wedding photographer and a local bar employee, and said federal agents were helping with the investigation into what caused it.

At least two of the victims, all in their 20s, were tenants, David Bragdon Jr. and Ashley Thomas, fire Chief Jerry LaMoria said. Two non-tenants, Christopher Conlee, of Portland, and Maelisha Jackson, of Topsham, also died in the Saturday morning fire, he said.

The fifth victim is believed to be a tenant, but the medical examiner was still working to confirm the identity.

The state fire marshal's office is investigating the cause of the fire, which gutted the 94-year-old two-apartment house. It now has help from the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which will provide scientific support at the scene of the fire, LaMoria said.

The fire happened the morning after a Halloween party at the house, state police spokesman Steve McCausland has said. A badly burned survivor, Steven Summers, of Rockland, was hospitalized in Boston in critical condition, and seven other tenants escaped.

One of the tenants to escape, Nathan Long, said Thomas was a wedding photographer and Bragdon Jr. worked at a nearby restaurant called Great Lost Bear. He said he and another tenant, Kyle Bozeman, escaped by jumping from a second-story porch roof as the apartment filled with smoke and fire.

Long said the tenants were like a family, frequently cooking family-style meals and serving as a support system for each other, and the loss of his friends is gnawing at him.

"Surviving it while three people that I really love didn't survive is really eating me up really bad. It's destroying me," he said, referring to the three tenants. "I feel blessed to be alive, but I feel incredibly guilty that I survived and they didn't."

Fire investigators have said it could take days to determine what caused the intense fire, Maine's deadliest in 30 years. All the victims died of smoke inhalation, LaMoria said.

"The community is grieving the loss of five young lives in a tragedy that we don't yet understand," LaMoria said.

Investigators also are looking to see if there were any code violations at the house, LaMoria said. The owner of the house, Greg Nisbet, has been contacted, he said.

Telephone calls to Nisbet from a reporter were not returned Monday.

A friend of some of the tenants, Nate Lessard, said Thomas was the photographer at his wedding.

"The kind of person you can't have a bad day around, you can't say a bad thing about," Lessard said. "It's not fair that it happened to someone so perfect."

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Associated Press writer Alanna Durkin contributed to this report.