, Newburyport, MA

May 16, 2014

Officials: Inferno caused by careless smoking

Smokers, property managers urged to be careful

By Mike LaBella and Bill Cantwell
Staff Writers

---- — HAVERHILL — Eight days after a fire at the Forest Acres apartment complex left 46 people homeless, officials have released the cause of the blaze.

State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan and city Public Safety Commissioner Alan DeNaro said the cause of the large fire on May 7 at 21-23 Forest Acres Drive in Bradford was improper disposal of smoking materials.

They made that announcement yesterday.

The building fire also caused a 10-acre brush fire in the woods behind the building.

Jennifer Mieth, spokeswoman for the fire marshal, said the blaze started on the rear ground-level exterior of 21 Forest Acres Drive and traveled up the outside of the building.

Fire officials released no other details about the cause.

The fire was investigated by the Haverhill fire and police departments and state police assigned to the Office of the State Fire Marshal.

Coan’s office said two firefighters were injured battling the blaze, which caused an estimated $670,000 in damage.

Two 10-unit buildings were destroyed by the fire, displacing the residents of 20 housing units. The building was not required to have sprinklers inside or on the balconies when it was built, but would if it were constructed today.

A young mother jumped from a second-floor balcony, clutching her 18-month old son. She was received back injuries, but the child was not hurt.

Coan said managers of apartment complexes should work with tenants to prevent careless smoking.

“Property managers should consider providing and maintaining proper receptacles for disposing of smoking materials outside buildings, to prevent fires from flicked cigarettes,’’ he said. “There are commercially available products, but a metal can with sand or water that is maintained also work well.

“We are asking smokers to take responsibility for properly disposing of their butts and prevent fires,’’ DeNaro said. “Improperly disposing of a cigarette into a pile of mulch, dried leaves, or debris is reckless and people know it.’’