BRUNSWICK, Maine — Former tenants of a landmark Maine Street building that burned in April 2011 have filed a civil suit against owner Orville T. Ranger for unspecified damages, claiming negligence and negligent infliction of emotional distress in not providing adequate smoke detectors or a second exit from the building.
Ranger, 87, owns the former 174-year-old building at the corner of Brunswick’s Maine and Mason streets, which ignited in the early morning of April 17, 2011, displacing five businesses from the ground floor and 17 residents from second- and third-story apartments.
More than 100 firefighters from 10 departments battled the blaze, at one point rescuing one resident from a third-story window. But the fire continued to expand and eventually forced the evacuation of all firefighters.
The cause of the fire was officially listed as undetermined, but investigators reported that the building violated the public fire safety regulations because it did not have an adequate smoke detector system and only had one means of egress from the second floor.
Ranger was charged with misdemeanor violation of a public fire safety rule. As part of a plea agreement, he pleaded guilty to the civil violation of failure to have more than one way of egress, and the misdemeanor charge was dismissed. Ranger was fined $500.
For three years prior to the fire, officials from the Brunswick Fire Department and state fire marshal’s office had notified Granger and his now-deceased wife, Susan Ranger, that the building violated fire codes. Violations continued until the day of the fire, according to a complaint filed in Cumberland County Superior Court by attorney Timothy Norton, who represents the plaintiffs, Neemias C. Campos, Janice Johansen, Robert Nolan, James Vanover, Nate Wing, Brittni Bigan and Tristan Wing, a minor child.
The suit seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
“Our goal is to get some financial relief for these folks who lost everything, and we’re hoping this can be accomplished through this process,” Norton said by phone Tuesday.
According to Norton’s complaint, all of the plaintiffs lost property and suffered from smoke inhalation and emotional distress because of the fire. He argued that the building was a total loss “due, in part, to inadequate, nonfuctional and/or missing fire alarms that allowed the fire to grow and spread more than it would have otherwise been allowed to in a properly protected structure.”
One tenant was awake when the fire broke out and pulled a manual alarm, Norton said. Some tenants said they heard no fire alarm, Norton said, and some reported hearing a “dim alarm.” Furthermore, he said, firefighters recalled hearing only partial alarms when they arrived at the burning building.
“Ms. Bigan, fleeing from the fire herself, pulled her infant son, Tristan Wing, screaming from his crib while flames engulfed the baby’s bedroom,” the complaint states.
Ranger has denied the allegations, according to court documents. His attorney, Jack Miller, did not respond to phone calls Monday or Tuesday,
According to documents filed in court, Jack Miller would present an expert witness who would testify that “a fire protection system is not a guarantee that there would be no property damage. Moreover, he would testify that the proposed fire safety system is primarily for life safety, not for preservation of property. He is expected to testify that the fire was detected early enough for people to exit the property with no loss of life.”