GROTON — Groton Fire Chief Steele McCurdy and state Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey announced Thursday that the cause of a June 1 fire on Main Street in Groton that injured a resident and a firefighter was improper disposal of smoking materials — the third time so far this year that a serious fire in Greater Lowell was sparked by smoking.
The fire at the Winthrop Place, 373 Main St., right in the heart of Groton, was reported about 2 p.m., and quickly spread throughout the multi-unit building because it got into an attic space where there were no sprinklers, even though parts of the building had sprinklers, according to Ostroskey and McCurdy.
“In this building in particular, there are no sprinklers in the attic area,” McCurdy told The Sun on the day of the fire. “So as the fire progressed outside of the building and got into the attic, there were no sprinklers to suppress that fire. Sprinklers in the attic area would’ve really made a difference.”
A resident suffered a minor case of smoke inhalation, and a firefighter suffered a minor injury while battling the flames, according to McCurdy. Both were treated at local hospitals and released.
In a joint press release issued Thursday by the Department of Fire Services, McCurdy and Ostroskey said the blaze started in an exterior storage closet in the front of 8-unit apartment building due to improper disposal of smoking materials. It quickly spread to the building, causing an estimated $800,000 in damage, they said.
“The building is a total loss and all the occupants have been displaced,” authorities said in a press release.
McCurdy and Ostroskey said the Department of Fire Services has an ongoing campaign to promote safety with smoking materials dubbed Put it out. All the way. Every time.
“The improper disposal of smoking materials is a leading cause of fires and fire deaths,” Ostroskey said. “It is fortunate this fire did not results in a death, but 40% of Massachusetts fire deaths this year have been due to smoking.”
One of those deaths occurred just one town away in Chelmsford, where 58-year-old Colleen Konkel died about two weeks after a May 1 fire that left her severely injured. Following an investigation, Ostroskey said that blaze was caused by improper disposal of smoking materials as well.
In that fire, little but the chair Konkel fell asleep was burned, as a sprinkler head activated and extinguished fire when smoking materials caught Konkel’s chair on fire. That blaze occurred in a nearly brand-new building on Turnpike Road.
Another blaze in Chelmsford, in a mobile home at 2 Mason Ave., was also blamed on improper disposal of smoking materials earlier this summer.
In their press release about the Groton blaze, McCurdy and Ostroskey also noted the building’s truss construction, which tends to fail quickly during fires and which forced firefighters to quickly search the building for residents during the blaze.
“Firefighters leaving the building saw the roof collapse happening behind them,” McCurdy said.
They also noted the lack of sprinklers throughout the 8-unit building, which was due to its age. New buildings of the same size must have sprinklers throughout, but Winthrop Place only had sprinklers in hallways and stairwells. McCurdy said sprinklers in the storage space and attic would have led to a much different outcome.
“This fire is a prime example of why the fire service continues to push for change in the State Building Code to require sprinkler systems in all housing units. While the Building Code requires sprinklers in all new multi-family and most larger commercial buildings, the same cannot be said for one- and two-family homes which is where most fire deaths occur,” McCurdy said in a press release. “Clearly the need for a change is paramount.”