Woman dies after 3-alarm fire in Cambridge

Originally published Feb. 12, 2014 in the Cambridge Chronicle.

One woman died in a three-alarm fire that ripped through a triple-decker at 240 Prospect St. early Wednesday morning, Feb. 12, according to fire officials.

Deputy Fire Chief Gerard Mahoney said the woman, who is believed to have been in her 50s and was a guest of the apartment’s tenant, suffered from cardiac arrest. Mahoney would not, however, confirm the cause of death. There were no other injuries, he said.

District Attorney Marian Ryan’s office will release the identify of the victim once her family has been notified.

Firefighters responded to the fire shortly before 4 a.m., Mahoney said, and arrived to find flames coming out of the second and third floors. Fire officials later confirmed the blaze was ignited by an electric baseboard heater.

“Either the heater itself malfunctioned, electrical wiring to the heater failed, or combustibles on top of the heater caught fire,” read a press release from the Department of Fire Services.

Fire Chief Gerald Reardon said the smoke alarms in the house were not in working condition.

“All of the smoke alarms we found inside the apartment where the fire occurred, and many others throughout the building, were disconnected or without a battery,” he said in a written statement. “A working smoke alarm coupled with an escape plan can double one’s chances of surviving a fire.”

MIT employee, Dajo Reys, was sleeping next door when he awoke to the smell of plastic burning, he said.

“I looked out next door and the house was burning insanely in flames,” Reys said. “It was really, really scary.”

As soon as he saw the flames, he searched for his four roommates. They all made it out safely, he said, and waited outside until they were allowed back into their house.

According to property records, the house is owned by Mohan Singh, Parkash Kaur and Raghbir Singh. The house was purchased in 1991 for $86,000 and was last assessed at $557,200, according to property records. Reys said a family lived in the house with a “very nice grandmother, her son” and other relatives.

Fire officials said the blaze caused an estimated $400,000 in damage to the building and $50,000 damage to the building next door at 238 Prospect St.

American Red Cross communications manager Ashley Studley said Red Cross volunteers assisted two families displaced by the fire. Five adults and one teen will be provided a hotel stay, and funds for food, clothing and shoes. A resident from the third floor unit was not at the scene, Studley said.

More than 60 firefighters responded to the blaze, Mahoney said, with companies responding from Somerville, Watertown and Boston. Mahoney said the fire was knocked down within an hour and only spread slightly to an adjacent house.

The light blue house showed pieces of sky peeking through charred remains of the exterior. Reys said it looked like the entire house was unrecoverable.

“It’s really sad,” Reys said. “They were standing inside the 7-Eleven, crying. They lost their whole apartment. Everything was destroyed.”

The fire was jointly investigated by the Cambridge Fire Department, Cambridge Police Department, State Police assigned to the Office of the State Fire Marshal and to Middlesex District Attorney Marian Ryan’s office. Assistance was received from an electrical expert, State Police Crime Scene Services, and the Code Compliance Unit of the Department of Fire Services.

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