NEW BEDFORD, Mass. (WPRI) ─ The apartment fire that killed two people and displaced 40 others earlier this week was caused by the “improper disposal of smoking materials,” according to Massachusetts State Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey.
The fire started in an alleyway between two buildings on Acushnet Avenue early Monday morning.
Ostroskey said smoking materials dropped from an upper-floor apartment ignited a pile of trash and debris next to a dumpster below.
The fire spread to both multi-unit apartment buildings, only one of which had working sprinklers and smoke alarms, according to Ostroskey.
Everyone in the building with the working sprinkler system and smoke alarms escaped to safety, however, in the other building, two residents were found dead.
The Bristol County district attorney’s office identified the victims as Tomas Gomez-Delacruz, 49, and Juan Macario-Mejia, 40.
Ostroskey said the second building, which housed a bakery on the first floor and apartments on the three floors above, had no sprinklers or central alarm system and many of the smoke alarms appeared to be disabled or expired.
“In Massachusetts, smoke alarms must be replaced after 10 years,” he added. “The sensing mechanism degrades over time and can’t be relied upon to work when you need it most.”
He also said tenants had stored several items in the rear stairwell, preventing them from using it as an escape route. It’s unclear whether anyone attempted to actually do so, or if it being blocked contributed to the deaths of Gomez-Delacruz and Macario-Mejia.
One firefighter was injured and transported to a nearby hospital with minor injuries.
New Bedford Fire Chief Scott Kruger said called the fire “a terrible tragedy” for the city.
“This fire clearly demonstrates that fire sprinklers buy time, and time buys life,” Kruger said. “In a fire you may have less than three minutes to escape and smoke alarms provide early warning of danger.”
Kruger said the fire also shows why it’s important to ensure all smoking materials are put out, “all the way, every time.”