Greg Hartley, left, Molly Donley, center, and Kylie Pinette, right, pose for a photo. Lifelong friends who met in Millinocket, each of them were displaced by a Portland apartment fire over the weekend that sent five people to the hospital. Credit: Courtesy of Molly Donley

They were Millinocket natives who ended up living at a townhouse in Portland after nearly two decades of friendship. But now, a fire over the weekend has left them without their belongings or a stable place to stay.

Molly Donley, Greg Hartley and Kylie Pinette were among those displaced by a weekend fire in a North Street apartment complex that sent five people to the hospital, including one woman who remains in critical condition. Though the group was not injured, they have been left to stay in hotels without any of their belongings as they search for a new place to live.

In a city with a stressed rental market, the loss of the home highlights two significant problems: the lack of available housing in the Portland area and the significant risks that come from not getting renters’ insurance. Donley said her lack of insurance on her rental was a mistake she keeps wishing she could take back.

The fire occurred in the early hours of Saturday. Donley said she was fast asleep when Hartley rushed to her bedroom and told her they needed to leave.

“Once I registered what was going on, I looked out my window to see my neighbor’s house completely engulfed in flames,” Donley said.

As she fled her townhouse at 3 a.m., she was left only with the clothes on her back and her cat, Flume.

The three friends waited outside for nearly five hours, primarily staying in their cars to get respite from the weather. Winds were already heavy as the nor’easter headed for Maine, with snow beginning to fall shortly before firefighters left around 8 a.m.

The Red Cross gave the group two VISA debit cards with $515 each that they used to book hotel rooms at the DoubleTree in South Portland. As they check the market for a new apartment, they plan to use nearly $6,000 raised from a GoFundMe campaign set up by a Millinocket friend to pay for an extended-stay Airbnb.

But finding permanent housing may not be a simple task. Portland’s housing market has grown unaffordable to many residents throughout the pandemic, with many rentals in the city either being too expensive or fiercely competitive.

The problem could get even worse in 2022. A analysis found that the price of homes in Portland will grow 10 percent from last year, larger than any other metro area in the country.

Maine’s harsh winters only further the problem: there are often less units listed during the colder months.

The three have been told by their apartment’s management company that they won’t be allowed back into the unsafe structure to retrieve any belongings — at least not yet. So they are facing potentially replacing everything from clothes and toiletries to furniture.

Renters’ insurance can cover the replacement of personal property as well as provide liability coverage if the holder causes damage or injury, said Jenna Jeffrey, spokesperson for Portland-based Clark Insurance.

Generally, rates can be as low as $150 a year ($12.50 a month), she said, though they are more if the insured has highly-valued belongings.

“This is coverage that we write a lot,” Jeffrey said. “People just see value in the protection.”

Multiple calls to Island View Apartments were not answered on Tuesday morning. A call to its parent company, Massachusetts-based Housing Management Resources, was also not answered.

But the funds raised will help bridge the gap a bit for the trio.

Millinocket Town Councilor Louis Pelletier, who doesn’t know them, said he donated because he wanted to help people from Millinocket driven out of their homes.

“We are a close knit town – we all pitch in to help each other,” Pelletier said. “We have all been through so much here.”

Even with the money, Donley knows she and her friends face a difficult road ahead. They still aren’t sure if they will get any of their stuff back or if it’s salvageable. And she can’t work right now because the equipment necessary for her state government job remains in the apartment.

“I never had renters’ insurance and I feel so silly now … You know, I’m really kicking myself in the behind,” Donley said “It’s absolutely something people should think about.”