Fire marshal’s office says Holden apartment blaze caused by ‘careless smoking’

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HOLDEN — The state fire marshal’s office said Monday morning that “careless smoking” caused a fire that displaced more than two dozen residents of a Holden apartment building Sunday night.

A 54-year-old woman was smoking in her second-floor apartment when the fire broke out at around 9:30 p.m. at the Holden Square Apartments on Upper Dedham Road, according to Sgt. Timothy York of the state fire marshal’s office. There was an oxygen tank in the room, but York said he was unsure whether the oxygen was in use when the fire started because he hadn’t had a chance to interview the resident.

The woman was taken to the hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation. York had no update on her condition and declined to release her name.

Two other residents who complained of chest pain also were taken to the hospital, according to York.

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Firefighters managed to contain the fire to that one apartment unit at the back of the building. The apartment below was damaged by water.

“The rest of the building seems to be in pretty good shape,” York said.

Crews from Bouchard Cleaning and Restoration were on scene Monday morning repairing damage. Most residents could be cleared to return to their apartments as soon as Monday night, but it could take longer for residents who live in the wing where the fire occurred.

Both York and Holden Fire Chief Ryan Davis said they didn’t believe smoking was allowed inside the apartment complex.

Davis said Holden fire crews were at the blaze within four minutes of the call. Crews doused the flames and swept through the roughly 35-unit complex to ensure everyone had left the building. A smoke detector sounded the initial warning. A resident pulled an alarm box to alert the rest of the building’s residents, York said, adding that he believes all detectors and alarms were operational.

“Smoke detectors and fire alarms work. We’ve had some tragedies in the state over the past few months that have been associated with lack of smoke detection, to lack of notification,” York said, referring to November’s deadly apartment fire in Portland that claimed the lives of six residents. “This is another example of how that early notification really does save lives.”

Davis credited crews for their rapid response on Sunday night. Holden has full-time coverage, with one firefighter-EMT stationed at the department every night prepared to respond to emergencies. When the call came in around 9:30 p.m. Sunday, that firefighter was able to get the fire engine to the scene within four minutes, Davis said. That way, firefighters who arrived at the apartment complex were able to get to work right away.

“If we didn’t have someone in the station, we’d be 20 minutes plus,” Davis said, adding that by that time, the fire might have spread. “That whole wing would have burned down.”

Crews first worked outside the building, spraying water into the room from outside to cool the room down before “attacking from the inside.” Firefighters also searched the building, unsure of how many visitors or guests might have been in the apartment units for the holidays.

The fire was out within 15 minutes, according to the fire chief.

“The crews went in there and did an awesome job,” Davis said. Firefighters and EMTs from Holden, Brewer, Dedham, Hampden, Orrington and Bangor assisted.

Just four years ago, smoking caused another fire in the same apartment building. An 80-year-old woman had been smoking in her living room near her oxygen machine, causing flames to break out. She suffered burns, but again the fire was contained to a single apartment.

With two very similar fires in the past four years, Davis said his department would step up efforts to educate residents on fire hazards. Holden fire already holds annual drills and fire education sessions at the complex. The most recent one was just last month.

“We’re going to make a push to do everything in our effort to get down here more, help out management and figure out what we need to do better to get people to understand what the hazards are,” the chief said.

The Red Cross is working with those displaced by the fire, and as of early Monday morning, 12 have been placed in a local hotel and 14 are staying with friends or family.

Red Cross disaster volunteers will continue to provide food, clothing and emotional support, according to a press release from the organization.

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