Close to four months after the April 17 fire at 45 Maine Street, the building's owner Orville Ranger has been issued with both a civil and a criminal summons. He is expected to stand trial in the coming months, and will appear at a dispositional conference scheduled for November 17.
"It's the lowest class of crime, it's punishable by up to six months in jail and a maximum fine of $1000," said Brunswick Police Department (BPD) Lieutenant Mark Waltz of the criminal summons. Waltz went on to say that Ranger will be tried for not having a proper alarm system in the building, a violation of public safety laws. Additionally in order to comply with building standards, "you're supposed to have two clearly marked ways of egress on the second floor," which Waltz said that Ranger had not installed.
Waltz explained that in his 14 years at the BPD, Orville is the first person to be charged with a criminal violation for his failure to follow the fire safety codes.
"This is the first time...but our position, and that of the Brunswick Fire Department (BFD), is that it's serious and when you're being told you need to make upgrades to your building, you've got to make upgrades because people's lives are at stake," he said. "But for the grace of God, there was no one killed in this facility."
Preceding the fire, the BFD spent two years pressuring Orville to make the necessary upgrades. During this process, there were multiple meetings held between the BFD, Orville, and the State Fire Marshall's office. BFD Deputy Fire Chief Jeff Emerson, who was the department's representative on the case, could not be reached for comment. BFD Fire Chief Ken Brillant stated that he was not in a position to comment as he did not participate in the process.
"There were a lot of frustrations on the behalf of the fire department because they'd been trying to work with this guy for a couple of years and they weren't getting any satisfaction," said Waltz. "And then one of the very things he was warned about, the fact that it could make it difficult for people to detect the fire and escape, ended up happening."
Ranger's defense attorney Peter Detroy, of Portland-based law firm Norman Hanson DeTroy, became involved in the case soon after the fire, when Ranger's friends suspected he might face criminal charges.
He went on to describe the legal history of the case. "The case was initially brought in West Bath. We, as we do in every case, entered a plea of not guilty, and then the case was set in Portland. That's an internal administrative decision, not one that I made."
Yet, while the case may continue in Portland, many of the issues are still sorting themselves out in Brunswick. For the two dozen former residents of 45 Maine Street, life is gradually starting to assume a sense of normalcy. "So basically from not getting any calls or requests now, we feel that everyone has found a new place to live and all their emergent needs were met, and everything is back on their normal day-to-day lifestyle," said Director of Emergency Services for the Midcoast Maine Red Cross Paul Clark.
"Unfortunately," he continued, "what happens with us is that once they get established, they don't contact us anymore."
Clark did go on to explain however, that, in some ways, life could never return to normal for some residents.
"They don't have things that they used to have around them—pictures, clothing, all that. So it is the transition that's tough to get over," he said.
Although he has not recently received any requests for help, during the initial stages of the transition, calls were coming in en masse from the former residents.
In order to satisfy their urgent needs, Red Cross officials interviewed each effected resident, and then supplied them with an ATM card, pre-loaded with between $500 and $600, although there was no set amount that someone could receive. The affected residents were also placed in a hotel until they could find more permanent housing.
Clarke went on to thank all those who donated.
"The local people came through," he said. Even with three apartment building fires, "the donations that came in paid for everything."
However he did caution that with the end of one tragedy, could come the beginning of another: "Now we're going into the fire season, when people start using wood stoves and Christmas tree lights, stuff that can cause more of a problem."
Detroy, on the hand, is looking to the future with hope, as he looks to resolve the case at the dispositional conference instead of the trial.
"I always think that if people are reasonable you could reach some kind of resolution," he said.