PORTLAND, Maine — Paul Garrido awoke about 7 a.m. Nov. 1, 2014, to a loud popping sound and a man’s voice yelling “fire.”
Seeing smoke pouring into the first-floor room and the front door engulfed in flames, Garrido, 25, who was visiting from Rockland, grabbed some of his belongings and put on one shoe before fleeing the heat and smoke to the second floor at 20 Noyes St., pounding on the walls and yelling “fire” as he went, he told a Cumberland Superior Court judge on Tuesday during the manslaughter trial of the building’s landlord.
On the second floor, Garrido saw resident Nathan Long, dressed only in purple underwear, running down the hall. As smoke rose up the stairs, the pair tried briefly and in vain to clear a bookshelf that was blocking the second stairwell. The shelf was put there temporarily by someone moving into the building, Long told the court.
In the hallway, before they leaped from a second-story bedroom window, Garrido said he heard two women’s voices screaming from the third floor, where there were more bedrooms.
“One was just inaudible, just screaming, and the second voice was screaming for help,” he said.
As the fire neared him, Long described hesitating about whether to jump from the burning house.
“I was on the porch roof and thinking it was a bit high to jump, but I was getting these big inhales of smoke, and that’s what forced me,” he said.
Garrido and Long were among the visitors and former residents who testified Tuesday in Portland about the 2014 Noyes Street fire, the state’s most deadly blaze in decades, which killed six people.
The building’s owner, Gregory Nisbet, stands accused of six counts of manslaughter in a case that could set new precedent in Maine for holding a landlord criminally liable for the conditions of his property. Nisbet has pleaded not guilty and opted for a bench trial rather than trial by jury.
Nisbet should not have been renting rooms on the third floor as they lacked a second exit, as required by fire code, Assistant Attorney General John Alsop told Justice Thomas Warren in opening arguments on Monday. Three of the six people who died in the fire were found on the third floor and Nisbet gave third-floor residents rope ladders in case they needed to escape, a prosecutor said Monday.
Much of the examination of witnesses on Tuesday, however, focused on the arrangements between Nisbet and his tenants at the two Noyes Street addresses, as the landlord’s responsibilities would differ depending on whether they were considered boarding houses or single-family homes. Based on court testimony, it appears that the arrangements may have differed between the 20 and 24 Noyes St. addresses.
Long, who lived on the 20 Noyes St. side of the building, testified that he had “no concrete arrangement for paying Nisbet rent” and would give the landlord cash on weekly installments. Long said that he and some other residents had locks on the outside of their doors, as might be the case in a boarding house.
He also said that he’d never discussed smoke detectors with Nisbet and that “there weren’t any [working ones] present.”
But, during cross examination, when defense attorney Matthew Nichols presented Long with a printout of a Facebook post with a group photo referring to the “Noyes Street Family,” he said the group did live together as a sort of family.
Two former residents of the 24 Noyes St. side of the buildings testified to a different arrangement with Nisbet. Both Daren Haslip and Richard Macketta said that they had leases with the landlord and would pay by monthly check. The pair also said that most of the residents of 24 Noyes St. kept padlocks on their doors.
Haslip said that he’d had a chance to verify that there were smoke detectors on his side of the building when he moved in.
“They were working six months before the fire. I remember that they went off when we were cooking six months prior to the fire,” he said.
But he had no memory of hearing detectors on the 20 Noyes St. side of the building go off.
On the morning of the fire, Haslip said he woke early and smelled smoke. But hearing no alarm he presumed it was from a brush fire down the block, so he made coffee and returned to his room, he told the court.
The fire was kindled by a stray cigarette butt that ignited a chair and couch on the front porch of the building, according to investigators.