GloucesterTimes.com, Gloucester, MA

March 25, 2013

Fatal fire cause is deemed 'accidental'

By Marjorie Nesin
Staff Writer

---- — The state fire marshal has confirmed that the January fire that took a 55-year-old Gloucester woman’s life as it tore through her Windsor Lane home, just off Western Avenue, on a late winter night was an accidental blaze and not a case of arson.

The state Medical Examiner’s Office found that smoke inhalation paired with burns likely took the life of fire victim Kim Anderson in the Jan. 26 fire.

“The investigative team has narrowed down the possible causes to improper disposal of smoking materials, combustibles too close to the baseboard heaters or an electrical malfunction of the baseboard heater behind the couch, but have ruled out arson as a possible cause,” State Fire Marshal Coan said Friday.

State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan and Gloucester Fire Chief Eric L. Smith said investigators found no evidence of smoke detectors having been installed in Anderson’s home. By the time firefighters arrived, the fire, which had originated in the living room of the one-story home, had engulfed 85 percent of the single-family house in flames.

Gloucester suffered from a rash of fires at the end of January, including this fatal fire and another fire on Perkins Street that left eight people without homes. In the wake of the splay of blazes, Gloucester firefighters urged residents to check their existing smoke detectors and add detectors where necessary.

The fire marshal reiterated the importance of keeping functioning detectors in homes Friday.

“Many people incorrectly think that they will wake up to the smell of smoke, when in fact studies have shown you will not, and the toxic smoke from a fire will put you into a deeper sleep,” Coan said.

Smith said that, had there been detectors in Anderson’s home, she likely would have escaped or called firefighters at the start of the fire. Instead, the department received no notice of the fire until a neighbor, seeing flames billowing from a skylight and windows, called firefighters about 11:02 p.m. reporting that the house was burning and the female resident and her two dogs might be inside, Chief Smith said.

As the fire investigation concluded no evidence of smoke detectors having been installed in Anderson’s home, Smith was again urging residents to continually check their own detectors.

“We just recently changed our clocks, which is a great time for each of us to check all our detectors to make sure they are working. Working smoke alarms are your first line of defense in a fire, giving you precious moments to use your home escape plan,” Smith said.

This fire, which acted as the concluding fire in a series of five that hit Gloucester in less than 10 days at the end of January, was jointly investigated by the Gloucester Fire Department, the Gloucester Police Department, State Police assigned to the Office of the State Fire Marshal and to the Office of the Essex District Attorney’s Office. Assistance was received from the electrical inspector and from the Code Compliance and Enforcement Unit in the Office of the State Fire Marshal.

No residents were majorly injured in any of the fires preceding the fatal that struck houses on upper Washington Street, Perkins Street, Woodman Street and Maplewood Avenue.

Firefighters in January believed at least two of the fires seen in the short span of time stemmed from improper disposal of cigarettes, according to Smith.

Firefighters said the fire at the Maplewood Avenue residence Jan. 19 that displaced two families likely sparked after a cigarette, not fully extinguished, landed near the outside of the house.

Firefighters also determined that it was likely a smoking mistake that burnt down the 9 Perkins St. multi-family house on the frigid night of Jan. 18. With damage as extensive as that fire caused, Smith said it is difficult to absolutely determine a cause. But, firefighters did find that the fire began in a bedroom and smoking, they said, seemed a likely cause.

The fires that struck homes on upper Washington Street and on Woodman Street in West Gloucester kept firefighters busy, both striking on Jan. 24.

The upper Washington Street fire was caused by a combustible that came in contact with an electric baseboard heater, an investigation by Fire Inspector Joseph Mountain and Deputy McRobb determined.

The second fire, later in the morning Thursday at a one-story Woodman Street house in West Gloucester, drew firefighters after the homeowner tried to unfreeze his pipes using a blow torch-type tool, according to Fire Inspector Joseph Mountain.

Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at mnesin@gloucestertimes.com.