Islamic Society of Boston holds funeral for Cambridge fire victim

Originally published Feb. 19, 2014 in the Cambridge Chronicle.

Related: Woman dies after 3-alarm fire in Cambridge

Representatives from the Islamic Society of Boston said they buried Farzana Khan, a Pakistani woman living in Cambridge for more than a dozen years, on Monday, Feb. 17, after she died in a three-alarm fire last week.

The Middlesex District Attorney’s Office confirmed Khan’s identity. She was 58 years old.

Wajeeha Naz, a Cambridge resident who had known Khan for 13 years as an acquaintance and one-time neighbor, said she was shocked to hear Khan had died.

The three-alarm fire at 240 Prospect St. broke out early in the morning on Feb. 12, displacing six residents of the house and 12 neighbors. Damage to the building is estimated at $400,000, along with $50,000 in damage to the building next door at 238 Prospect St., according to the Department of Fire Services.

Authorities had a hard time identifying Khan at first, said Cambridge Deputy Fire Chief Gerard Mahoney. The information they received from the building’s other residents on the morning of the fire was “sketchy” as to what Khan’s exact relationship was to the people she was staying with.

Naz said Khan had fallen on some tough times. In September, Naz said Khan called her looking for a place to sleep.

“She was struggling and going through a very hard time,” Naz said. “Her husband had gone back to Pakistan because he was very old.”

Khan did not have legal documentation to work in the country, Naz said, and so she worked odd jobs at restaurants and babysitting.

“Whatever she could get,” Naz said, adding that Khan had spent some nights at a shelter to get by.

Another acquaintance of Khan, Cambridge resident “Mony,” who said she preferred to use only her nickname, contacted the Islamic Society of Boston to arrange Khan’s funeral. Mony said Khan’s five daughters and one son were all living in Pakistan.

“She didn’t have any family here,” Mony said. “That’s our responsibility as a Pakistani, as a neighbor, as a community, as a human being.”

Barry Hoffman, honorary consul general of the Pakistani embassy in Boston, said the Cambridge Police Department helped him contact Khan’s family in Pakistan. Hoffman said the police department was able to expedite the identification process so the medical examiner could release her body quickly per Muslim tradition.

Nichole Mossalam, executive director of the mosque’s Cambridge location on Prospect Street, said the mosque handled the funeral for Khan’s family in Pakistan since they were not able to send the body to them.

“For us, it’s a community obligation to take care of everyone in the community for their final spiritual needs,” Mossalam said. “We look at it as a privilege.”

Mossalam said the funeral took place at 3 p.m. Monday, and her body was brought to the Gardens at Gethsemane in West Roxbury.

State Fire Marshal Stephen Coan said the fire started from a malfunctioning electric baseboard heater.

“Either the heater itself malfunctioned, electrical wiring to the heater failed, or combustibles on top of the heater caught fire,” according to a statement released Feb. 13.

All of the smoke alarms found inside the apartment where the fire occurred and many others throughout the building were disconnected or without a battery, said Cambridge Fire Chief Gerald Reardon

“A working smoke alarm coupled with an escape plan can double one’s chance of surviving a fire,” Reardon said in the statement.

The lack of working smoke detectors is troubling to many in the Pakistani community, Hoffman said, adding they would be looking into legal action once the reports are made public. Mahoney said they wouldn’t release the incident report until after the medical examiner had released a cause of death, which can sometimes take weeks or months. Jennifer Mieth, a spokeswoman for the Fire Marshal’s Office, said they hadn’t yet written their report.

Per state law, Mahoney said purchasers of a new home are required to demonstrate that they have working smoke detectors within 30 days of buying their house. But, after the initial inspection, there is no legal requirement to follow up.

According to property records, the house is owned by Mohan Singh, Parkash Kaur and Raghbir Singh. It was purchased in 1991 for $86,000 and is currently assessed at $557,200.

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