Careless smoking caused two-alarm Ayer fire that displaced family

Bligh Street renter says all property lost in blaze

The home at 20 Bligh Street in Ayer, which suffered major damage from a two-alarm fire that took place on Saturday, Feb. 22
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AYER — A woman and her family lost all their possessions after a two-alarm fire on Saturday night caused irreparable damage to the home they were renting.

Shannon Holleran had lived at 20 Bligh St. with her 11-month-old daughter and her daughter’s father, Dana Patra, since September. She said she and her daughter were taking a nap on the second floor of the two-story home sometime around 4 p.m. on Saturday when she heard screaming.

“By the time I came downstairs, a neighbor had kicked down our door and told me the house was on fire,” Holleran said Sunday afternoon.

Ayer Fire Chief Robert J. Pedrazzi and State Fire Marshal Peter J. Ostroskey said in a press release on Monday that improper disposal of smoking materials was the cause of the fire itself. According to the release, the fire started on the outdoor wooden porch of the house after residents had smoked earlier in the day and used a small wastebasket to get rid of the smoking materials.

After the porch caught fire, smoke started to fill Holleran’s home. Fire alarms in the house hadn’t gone off due to the fire starting outside. Holleran said she ran upstairs to save her daughter and managed to give her to another neighbor standing at the back door of the house.

Holleran said she tried to go back upstairs to save the family dog but, at that point, she couldn’t see through the smoke and the staircase had started to catch fire.

“I would’ve been trapped inside,” she said.

Holleran managed to escape, though she was transported to an area hospital due to smoke inhalation. She said her mother-in-law took her daughter to her house while she was being treated. Her dog died due to smoke inhalation.

Members of the Ayer, Devens, Lunenburg, Littleton, Groton and Shirley fire departments responded to extinguish the blaze that started on the porch and spread through the two-story structure.

Ayer Fire Capt. Timothy Shea said the fire was brought under control within an hour and no firefighters were hurt.

“We are fortunate that the sleeping residents were able to escape safely,” Chief Pedrazzi said in the press release. “Smoking materials can smolder for a long time before starting a fire. It is important to properly dispose of smoking materials in a can of sand or water, or a deep sturdy ashtray.”

Roy DeHart, who owns 20 Bligh St., was surveying the damage to his property in dismay Sunday morning as members of Page General Contractors worked at the property. DeHart said he saw the blaze at about 4 p.m. on Saturday after hearing the neighbor scream for help while he was at 22 Bligh St., which he also owns.

“I had just gotten back from a wake,” DeHart said. “I had heard people screaming so I came out of my shed and saw the blaze.”

DeHart said a member of the Ayer Building Department told him the building is “a tear-down project,” likely costing him about $200,000 to demolish and then rebuild the home.

“The basement is fine, but the heat from the porch melted everything inside,” he explained.

The back of the home on the neighboring property of 24 Forest St. had bits that slightly melted from the heat of the fire. DeHeart said his insurance is paying to repair the damage to that home. His other neighboring house at 22 Bligh St. suffered smoke damage, making him need to repaint the left side of the house.

Holleran said everything her family had was inside the house and was either melted from the fire or suffered water damage. She and her family are currently staying at her mother-in-law’s house trying to find a new place to stay.

A GoFundMe campaign was started for the family called “Help Family Recover From House Fire,” with the goal of raising $5,000. As of Tuesday, the campaign has raised over $3,800.