Lately, I’ve devoted most of my columns to the various political races that will finally be decided on tomorrow. So naturally I planned on writing something about Election Day for this post.
But that was before a horrific fire took the lives of five young adults in Portland on Saturday morning.
As the events and details of the fire have rolled in, I’ve found myself unable to write about anything else. Talking to folks around town, seeing the names and faces of the victims, going on Facebook and seeing friends with direct connections to them express their shock, disbelief and grief- it feels as if not much else matters right now as much as coming together and finding comfort in community togetherness.
Portland is hurting greatly, many are in agony over this enormous loss of life, light, and love.
The names of the victims were released today, they are Christopher Conlee, 25, of Portland, Maelisha Jackson, 26, of Topsham, David Bragdon Jr., 27, Ashley Thomas, 29, and Nicole Finlay, 26. Bragdon, Thomas and Finlay were tenants of the building. Conlee and Jackson were visiting for the night.
Steven Summers, 29, of Rockland, is in critical condition at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. Summers was also a guest at the house who survived by jumping from a second-story window while engulfed in flames.
One of the victims, David Bragdon, worked around the corner from the Noyes Street apartment at The Great Lost Bear, one of Portland’s most popular watering holes. After visiting the site of the fire, I walked over to The Great Lost Bear and spoke with the owner, Dave Evans.
Evans, still stunned, said that the entire staff was devastated, “for a lot of our younger workers, this is the first time they’ve experienced a loss like this. Over the years, at least twenty five of my past employees have lived in that very house on Noyes Street. It’s just horrific and terribly sad.”
Evans said that they will be holding a Celebration of Life, approved by Bragdon’s family, on Wednesday Nov. 12 at The Great Lost Bear from 5-8 pm.
He also said that- in light of “No Shave November”– the restaurant would like to encourage anyone who can to grow out a beard in solidarity with the rest of the male members of the staff.
“I think it’d be a great idea to get people to participate in, let’s see how many beards we can get at the Celebration of Life.”
There has also been a GoFundMe campaign started by Grace Tyler, who is a friend of the victims, with the hopes of raising money for the families of the deceased, as well as the survivors.
Tyler and Evans have agreed to join collective forces and use the hashtag- #RememberNoyes to reach their fundraising goal, to create an online support community, and to encourage solidarity and togetherness in this time of enormous sadness.
For those that aren’t aware, Portland has a history of devastating fires dating back to the days of the early settlers in the 1600’s. The Great Fire of 1866, which nearly destroyed the entire peninsula, was the biggest urban fire seen in America to that date, and inspired Portland’s motto, “Resurgam,” which translates through Latin to “I will rise from the ashes.”
Following The Great Fire, Portlanders rebuilt the city to be stronger than ever, reinforcing our belief in ourselves to be able to overcome hardship and tragedy through community strength and faith in each other.
Saturday’s fire was the most deadly in Maine in three decades. In fact, more lives were lost on Noyes Street than in the entire Great Fire- but I have faith that in the wake of this historically tragic event Portland will once again find the strength to give support to those going through the most pain, and somehow find a way to carry on.
We are Portland, we will persevere, we will be the shoulder to lean on, we will rise again.
Link to the GoFundMe page- www.gofundme.com/rememberNoyes