NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WPRI) — Public safety officials on Wednesday confirmed the cause of a fire that claimed a New Bedford woman’s life last month.
New Bedford Fire Chief Paul Coderre Jr., acting Police Chief Joseph Cordeiro, and state Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey said the Oct. 22 fire at a multi-family home on Coffin Avenue was accidental, having started when a towel placed on top of a gas heater ignited.
Louise Barboza, 85, was on the phone with a relative when the fire broke out and described what happened, officials said. Firefighters rescued Barboza from the apartment but she later succumbed to her injuries at the hospital.
The other two units in the home were vacant at the time.
Officials said the fire is a tragic reminder to always keep combustible materials such as clothing, bedding and furniture away from space heaters. This includes carpets, rugs or mats placed underneath or too close to the heaters.
“Whether it is an electric space heater or an old-time room gas heater, it is important to keep anything that can catch fire three feet away from them,” Ostroskey said. “This is a tragic example of what can happen when clothes are placed on a space heater to dry.”
From 2009 to 2018, the fire marshal’s office received 136 reports of space-heater fires which caused two deaths, 44 injuries—18 to civilians and 26 to firefighters—and an estimated $10.5 million worth of damage.