Lack of Sprinklers, Alarms Investigated in Deadly Lowell Fire

It was a chaotic scene Thursday morning as residents of a Lowell apartment building rushed outside their smoke-filled homes in the pre-dawn hours. The sun had not yet risen at 4:00 am but the sky was illuminated with the bright orange flames billowing out of the roof of the building on 73-81 Branch Street. Some residents ran down to the fire station only 100 yards away and frantically begged for help while a police officer on his regular patrol spotted the blaze and also called it in.

The fire spread quickly through the old, wooden building originally built in 1890. Records indicate the building housed 48 individuals, many of whom were forced to use extreme measures to get themselves and their children out of the fully-engulfed 3-story structure. WBZ-Radio correspondent Carl Stevens recalled seeing residents “jumping out of windows to escape the fire in Lowell.” In addition, many witnesses reported seeing a mother desperately dangling her baby out of an upper floor window for someone to catch on the ground. The baby was safety caught by a bystander carefully positioned below, but others were not as lucky.

Multiple news outlets confirmed that seven people died in the fast-moving blaze, making it the deadliest fire in twenty years in the Commonwealth. Though authorities are hesitant to officially release the names of those lost, they did explain that five of the victims were found in the back right corner of the building while two others were found in the back left. Family members confirmed that five of the victims were from the same family. In addition, the Boston Globe reports that nine other people were taken to area hospitals with “non-life-threatening injuries.”

As the residents and neighbors begin to cope with the immeasurable tragedy of the loss of human life, their belongs, and their homes, fire officials are meticulously going through every detail of city records, inspections, and the charred building to pinpoint the exact cause of the fatal fire. There were numerous reports of fireworks in one of the apartments being ignited by the extreme heat and flames, but at this time it is not believed that they were the original source of the fire. Some residents reported hearing an explosion before the fire, but those statements also remain unconfirmed.

It is known, however, that the building did not have a sprinkler system. The lack of sprinklers allowed the fire to race through the old wooden building uninhibited. Because of the building’s age, it was not required by state fire code to have a sprinkler system. The building does not have a history of violations, but many residents and neighbors are voicing concerns that the smoke and carbon monoxide alarms did not go off and alert people in the building who would have been sleeping in the early morning hours when the fire occurred.

Though reports are conflicting, fire officials are taking these allegations very seriously and are determined to discover the source of the fire in addition to whether or not residents were adequately warned of the impending danger. A Lowell city ordinance passed in 2012 requires buildings to be inspected every three years, and the building at 73-81 Branch Street passed inspection in 2013. Records show smoke and carbon monoxide detectors were in fact hardwired into the building but it is still not clear if they were working at the time.

At a press conference, State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan told reporters, “We’re going to take a very hard and strong look at the history of this building,” he said. “What has occurred to this building over the years, building permits…violations which may have occurred, citations that may have been issued,” according to the Boston Globe

The National Fire Protection Agency reports that seven people lose their lives every day in home fires in the United States. Between the years 2007 and 2011, “these fires caused an estimated average of 2,570 civilian deaths, 13,210 civilian injuries, and $7.2 billion in direct property damage per year.” At the Greater Boston Law Firm of Altman & Altman, LLP, our dedicated team of Massachusetts Personal Injury Attorneys understand the emotional, physical, and financial burdens faced by victims of personal injuries and their families following a house fire or carbon monoxide poisoning. Our attorneys combine the professional experience of having successfully handled thousands of Personal Injury cases involving faulty equipment that families trust to protect their lives, with the individual attention to respond to the unique nature of your case.

At the law offices of Altman & Altman, we are available 24 hours a day, seven days a week – including nights and weekends to answer any questions regarding your case. Call us today to schedule a free initial consultation and case evaluation.

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