For Immediate Release - July 15, 2014

Lowell Fatal Fire Electrical

State Fire Marshal Stephen D. Coan, Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan, Lowell Fire Chief Edward Pitta, and Lowell Police Superintendent William Taylor today concluded their joint investigation into the July 10, 2014 fatal fire in Lowell. The fire at 77-85 Branch Street took the lives of seven people, four adults and three children, who lived in the building.

District Attorney Marian Ryan said, “We told you last week that we would conduct a thorough and comprehensive review of what caused the fire and we have done just that. Over the course of man hours since early that morning Lowell Fire, Lowell Police, State police assigned to my office and to the State Fire Marshal and the ATF have investigated what remains of the structure and the alarm system , and have reviewed a great deal of evidence and information to determine what happened here.”

Fire Burned Undetected in Concealed Space; Travelled Length of Building
Investigators determined that this was an electrical fire that began inside a concealed, void space that existed between the second and third floors. This space ran the entire length of the building without any fire stops. The fire burned undetected for a long period of time in what can be called a limited oxygen environment and travelled the length of the building. State Fire Marshal Coan said, “When the fire finally broke out of the concealed space and became visible, the sudden rush of oxygen fed the fire and allowed it to take hold of the building. It quickly became an inferno, with intense heat, and thick, black choking smoke.”

Chief Pitta said, “I want to express my sorrow to the families and the victims of this fire. I also want to recognize the heroic actions of the Lowell firefighters who kept this tragedy from being worse. They, with assistance from Lowell police officers, rescued many people who seconds later might also have been victims.”

District Attorney Ryan said, “I want to commend the heroic action of Lowell police and firefighters who saved many people that morning. They rescued people from within the building and others who were so desperate they escaped out windows.”

Investigative Team
The fire was jointly investigated by the Lowell Fire Department, Lowell Police Department, State Police assigned to Middlesex District Attorney Marian T. Ryan’s Office and State Police assigned to the Office of the State Fire Marshal, and the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). Assistance was received from electrical experts and the Department of Fire Services Code Compliance and Enforcement Unit.

Fireworks
The investigation confirmed that fireworks were present in the building and that they detonated at some point during the fire. However, the fireworks did not play a role in the ignition of this fire.

Fire Alarms
Many, but not all, of the tenants indicated they heard some type of alarm activation, whether it was the interconnected alarms in the hallway or the smoke alarm in their apartment. Many also reported that the alarm sound was muffled or intermittent. Our experts tell us that is consistent with this type of electrical fire. Coan said, “We believe that as fire took hold of this building, it disabled the fire alarm system early on. That’s why first arriving firefighters did not hear any alarms as they normally would.”

Codes
The Department of Fire Services Code Compliance and Enforcement Unit in cooperation with Lowell city departments conducted a thorough review of the history of the building. Under the current owner, there has been no history of code violations and records indicate the fire alarm system was properly maintained.

Lessons Learned
Coan said, “Let this fire serve as a reminder or a wake-up call that Fire is Everyone’s Fight.” It’s important to react quickly in a fire. Even with smoke detectors and fire alarms, time is your enemy. You may have as little as three minutes to get out safely. We also need to respond to every alarm activation by leaving the building. Even food on the stove can quickly turn into a significant fire, as fire doubles in size every 60 seconds. That is one reason fire educators warn never to re-enter a burning building. You may not be able to escape a second time.

In addition to smoke alarms, we also need an escape plan with two ways out. If you plan to use a window as a second exit, make sure it opens easily. Have a meeting place outside where the family can let arriving firefighters know if everyone is out safely or not. We hold fire drills at school because people will remember what they practice. Hold one at home as well.

Sprinklers: Changing the Future Face of Fire
As we learn from tragedies like this we can change our fire and building codes and build safer buildings. If this building were built today, it would have a fire sprinkler system. History has shown no multiple death fires in fully sprinklered buildings and often no one is displaced. Imagine sleeping in your home the night after a fire? We can change the future face of fire. There have been several regulatory and legislative attempts to allow local communities to choose for themselves whether or not to require sprinklers in newly built one- and two-family homes, which is where most fire victims die. This bill did not pass this year. Coan said, “We know how to build safer homes. If we build them with sprinklers, future generations will not know the heartache of tragedies like this one.”

 

Names of Deceased
The fire tragically took the lives of several members of our community.

In Apt. 9, Torn Sak, 7/5/77; Ellen Vuong, 12/22/84, Ryan Sak, 6/21/05; Anthony Sak, 10/12/01; and Sayori Sak, 7/4/07

In Apt. 4, Tina Christakos, 1/19/70 and Robert Downs, 3/21/42.