Westfield Fatal Fire Started on Stovetop
State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey and Westfield Fire Chief Mary Regan announced the cause of the June 17, 2017 fatal fire at 40 Park Street, Westfield is accidental. The fire started on the kitchen gas stove top at about 2:30 in the afternoon. On top of the stove was a power strip, underneath a pile of possessions. Whether the materials were ignited by the normal heat emitted by the power strip, a failure of the power strip, or by the gas pilot light, cannot be definitively determined, but the fire is considered accidental.
The Hampden District Attorney’s Office said the fire took the lives of 92-year old Mary Woodworth and her 54-year old daughter Theresa Woodworth, who had been caring for her elderly mother at home.
“Sadly, there were no working smoke or carbon monoxide alarms in the home that would have given at least the daughter, a chance to escape while the fire was still small,” said Westfield Fire Chief Mary Regan. “There was no evidence that any smoke or CO alarms had been installed at all. The Westfield Senior Center’s Retire the Fire! program helps older adults make sure they have working smoke alarms,” she added.
The house was filled with excessive clutter that not only trapped the victims inside, but also made it difficult for firefighters to gain entry to the home to attempt a rescue and to fight the fire. In February of this year, a nearly similar fatal fire occurred in Beverly. A kitchen fire blocked the ability of the victim to reach the only usable exit in her home. In 2016, three people died in fires where excessive clutter was an issue for the residents trying to escape, or firefighters trying to rescue them. State Fire Marshal Ostroskey said, “No one thinks a fire will happen to them, but when one does, these conditions put both residents and responding firefighters in harm’s way.”
The fire was jointly investigated by the Westfield Fire Department, Westfield Police Department and State Police assigned to both the Office of the State Fire Marshal and to the Office of the Hampden District Attorney. Assistance was received from the Westfield electrical inspector and the Code Compliance Unit in the Department of Fire Services.
State Fire Marshal Ostroskey said, “We understand excessive accumulation of possessions is a mental health issue as well as a fire safety issue. We care about the safety of all of our residents and would ask anyone who feels their possessions are impairing their ability to use rooms in their home as they were intended, to reach out for help. There is no shame in asking for help.”
Chief Regan said, “This was a sad end to two vibrant members of our community. There is safe and non-judgmental support for individuals and families struggling with clutter; please contact the senior center or the board of health if you need or know someone who needs help.”
For a list of statewide resources on hoarding and cluttering go to: www.masshousing.com/hoarding or call 800-243-4636 (800 AGE INFO).