By Marjorie Nesin
---- — Fire officials are urging residents to take fire safety precautions after five fires blazed at Gloucester homes in a 10-day span, the most recent taking the life of a city woman and the first displacing eight people from their homes.
Firefighters believe smoke detectors may have been inactive or faulty in the 4 Windsor Lane home that burned late Saturday night, trapping a woman who was later found dead inside. Fire Chief Eric Smith said there was reportedly just one person living in the one-story wood frame home, but fire officials had still not released the identity of the victim as of late Monday. A medical examiner’s report, including identification, is expected on Wednesday
Smith said that, had there been detectors, the woman inside 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. The single-story wood frame house was 85 percent engulfed in flames by the time firefighters were notified and arrived, according to Smith.
”Unfortunately, we tend to repeat mistakes like this and a lot of people don’t consider it or think it through until it happens to a friend or neighbor or themselves,” Smith said.
With blazes striking houses on upper Washington Street, Perkins Street, Woodman Street, Maplewood Avenue and Windsor Lane just off Western Avenue, people in neighborhoods all over Gloucester have been touched by fire. Also, the fatal Windsor Lane fire was one of eight deadly fires in Massachusetts already this year, compared to 37 in all of 2012.
Smith said the Gloucester Fire Department is not only encouraging residents to install and check smoke alarms in their homes, but is also doing what they can to help people get smoke alarms up and working. The department is working with insurance companies to acquire donated smoke detectors for Gloucester residents who might be “having trouble making ends meet,” Smith said.
Anyone having difficulty installing a smoke detector can also turn to the department for help. Whether the person is not physically capable of installing it, does not own the proper installation equipment — like a ladder or screwdriver — or needs advice on where to position a smoke detector, the resident can call the department’s fire prevention division, and firefighters can swing by to help, Smith said.
Though none of Gloucester’s recent fires were apparently caused by heating devices, from what firefighters can determine, Smith is also reminding residents to use space heaters and other heating systems like wood stoves cautiously, as heating systems are a common cause of winter fires.
”It’s kind of one of those things we see happen nationally when the cold season comes around and people begin heating their homes,” Smith said.
Firefighters believe two of the fires seen in the short span of time stemmed from improper disposal of cigarettes, according to Smith. With many Gloucester homes consisting of wood frames, and many featuring landscaping surrounded by wood chips, Smith warned, smoking inside can be dangerous, but careless disposal of cigarettes outside can raise some red flags, too.
Firefighters believe the fire at a Maplewood Avenue residence Saturday afternoon that displaced two families likely sparked after a cigarette, not fully extinguished, landed near the outside of the house.
Investigators confirmed that the blaze started outside the building. All residents were away at the time of the fire, and three cats in the wood frame home escaped.
“It could have been anybody going by that just discarded a cigarette, thinking it was a harmless thing,” Smith said. “Smoking is one of those things that if you’re not careful, it’s easy to forget ... it becomes pretty second nature and it’s pretty easy to make those mistakes.”
Firefighters also determined that it was likely a smoking mistake too that burnt down a 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.
All residents escaped safely from that fire as well, but two families were placed in temporary housing by the Northeast Massachusetts chapter of the American Red Cross and the other residents were staying with family.
Meanwhile, Gloucester City Council President Jackie Hardy and City Council Vice President Sefatia Romeo Theken are working — as residents not city officials — with local groups to collect donations for the families who lost their homes and most of their belongings in the Perkins Street blaze.
Anyone wishing to donate items can drop them at the Cruiseport’s storage room on the rear of the building today and Wednesday between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m., or also between 4:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday. Hardy asked that people drop donations only during those hours, when the storage room will be open.
Hardy said they are collecting anything new or gently used and clean and are especially looking for household items like sheets, dishes, silverware and towels. Donations of money will be handled through the nonprofit Gloucester Fund, and checks can be sent to the fund at 45 Middle St. in Gloucester with “Perkins Street Fire” written on the memo line. Hardy will collect gift cards for the families, which can be sent to her address at 29 Cherry St. in Gloucester.
Large furniture items should not be brought to the Cruiseport, Hardy said. Instead, the Second Glance store on Pond Road — an affiliate of The Open Door food pantry and human services agency — has volunteered to pick up any donated furniture for redistribution to the families. The Second Glance can be reached at 978-283-4298 for furniture donation pick-ups.
Marjorie Nesin can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3451, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.