Cigarette determined to be cause of Rowley house fire

Courtesy photoThis house at 16 Wethersfield St. in Rowley is uninhabitable after a fire Sunday morning. The cause of the blaze was improper disposal of smoking materials, according to fire officials.

ROWLEY — Improper disposal of smoking materials has been determined to be the cause of a fire early Sunday on Wethersfield Street that led to the dramatic rescue of a woman from her second-floor bedroom.

The fire, which was mostly contained to that bedroom, started in the back porch area, according to Jake Wark of the state Fire Marshal's Office. 

Rowley Fire Capt. Ron Merry said the lone occupant, Deb Shanahan, was rescued from the burning home by a next-door neighbor. The neighbor, Mark Collum, lost his entire family in a fire 20 years ago in Ipswich, according to published reports.

"She was out before we got there," Merry said, adding that the resident was transported to Anna Jaques Hospital for evaluation. 

Merry said firefighters responded to 16 Wethersfield St. about 5 a.m. Sunday and saw fire shooting out of a second-floor skylight. The skylight, he said, vented the flames, allowing firefighters to contain it mostly to the bedroom and back porch.

Assisting the Rowley Fire Department were firefighters from Ipswich, Georgetown, Topsfield and Newburyport. Covering the station for the roughly four hours Rowley firefighters were on scene were firefighters from West Newbury and Hamilton.

Wark said smoking is the leading cause of fatal fires in Massachusetts and urged those who smoke to be extra vigilant about extinguishing all related materials. 

"Cigarette butts can ignite debris, mulch, and steps, porches, or railings outside a home. There’s no safe way to smoke, but if you must smoke we recommend a heavy ashtray or can with water or sand – and put it out, all the way, every time," Wark said. 

The town's online assessor's database lists 16 Wethersfield St. as 1½-story cape built in 1977 and owned by the Shanahan family. According to Merry, the house sustained heavy smoke and water damage.

The town's building inspector visited the address after the fire and said Tuesday morning the house is not habitable. It was last appraised at $349,500. 

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