EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 8, 2012

Haverhill fire blamed on smoker who used oxygen

By Mark E. Vogler
mvogler@eagletribune.com

---- — HAVERHILL – Oxygen and cigarette smoking – the deadly combination blamed on a fatal fire that killed an 87-year-old city woman in March – was being cited as a major culprit in a single-alarm fire at 152 Pilgrim Road early yesterday.

“We’re looking at smoking in bed with the use of oxygen,” Haverhill Deputy Fire Chief Brian Moriarty said in an interview yesterday. “It’s not the first time. It’s a bad combination and it’s extremely dangerous. If you have oxygen, you can’t be smoking or be near any open flame.”

The official cause of the fire remains under investigation, but a man who lives in the second-floor apartment who uses oxygen admitted smoking, according to Deputy Chief Moriarty.

Moriarity estimated about $50,000 damage to the two-and-a-half story, wood-framed house. The fire left three people temporarily homeless, including the second-floor tenant, who was assisted out by police and taken to the hospital.

“The whole second floor received fire damage, mostly in the bedroom. There was a lot of smoke and water damage throughout the building,” Moriarty said. “But the structure is salvageable. We didn’t have to touch the roof, but it’s going to need some windows.”

Moriarty credited the police with assisting the man to safety.

“When the police arrived, they found the man sitting at the bottom of the stairs. He had a medical history. They grabbed him and helped out,” he said.

Police also assisted a woman out of the building.

Trinity Ambulance transported the man to Lawrence General Hospital for treatment of an undisclosed condition. Moriarty disputed earlier reports that the man suffered a heart attack and was trapped in the building.

He credited firefighters with saving the building.

“It was an excellent stop,” Moriarty said, noting that mutual aid from other communities was available, but not needed.

“Unfortunately in bedroom fires when mattresses start burning, it’s extremely smokey,” he said. “We had it knocked down within 20 minutes. We were there the rest of the night, for overhaul and fire watch. I kept a truck there and rotated them through 7 o’clock.”

State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan concluded the March 7 fire that killed 87-year-old Phyllis Lamot started on a bed mattress and was likely sparked by “improper disposal of smoking materials or an aged heating pad.”

Coan also determined the presence of medical oxygen in the home fueled the rapid spread of the fire,

The matress where the fire began was not located in Lamot’s bedroom, but rather in one of the rooms of another first-floor occupant living at 477 Washington St. Lamot lived with two younger relatives, Raymond Matthes, 55, and Sherry Matthes, 53, who were both injured in the fire.