Tonawanda News

Local News

April 23, 2013

Cause of deadly NT blaze not known

Tonawanda News — Results of an investigation into a Third Avenue blaze that a killed two North Tonawanda residents April 8 was released Monday, though the cause remains undetermined.

Fire Chief John Lapham said the fire in the rented house appears to have started in the living room, while investigators have narrowed the most likely causes to an electrical short or the “numerous amounts of smoking materials” discovered after the fire was extinguished. At least one of the residents was thought to be a smoker. 

“We can’t nail it down to either,” he said. “It could be one of the two, it could be something we couldn’t find because of the damage. But odds are it was one of two items.”

The home, at 53 Third Ave., was also found to have four smoke detectors, which followed the city’s building codes, though none of them had working batteries, which Lapham said would have been the resident’s responsibility. 

Dorothy Burns, 83, was found unconscious in a bedroom at 11 p.m.. and died a short while later after first responders attempted to revive her. Her daughter, Kathleen Watson, 62, also was discovered in the rear of the house and died at DeGraff Memorial Hospital. The cause of death for both was smoke inhalation. 

The house was also filled with clutter, according to a report, which may have made fleeing it difficult. 

“It could have also added to the fire spreading, but there wasn’t a whole lot of fire when we arrived,” Lapham said. “There was plenty of smoke.” 

The owner will not be charged with a crime and the house remains boarded up and secured, according to Lapham. 

“It’s just shuttered. it’s structurally sound,” he said. “The code enforcement was over there to check it out. I’m sure the property owner is going to end up rebuilding.”  

Video evidence obtained from a home security system nearby also corroborated the department’s original findings. The fire was first reported at 10:49 p.m. by a resident of Third Avenue who was returning home. Police unites arrived three minuted later and fire officials were on the scene within five minutes.

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