A 60-year-old woman died late Wednesday night after a 2-alarm fire broke out at a multi-family home in Haverhill, Massachusetts, fire officials said.
The Haverhill Fire Department was called to 40 Pilling Street after receiving a 911 call shortly after 10 p.m. in which witnesses reported hearing smoke alarms at the home.
Firefighters found the victim, identified as 60-year-old Holly Quinn, in the back of the apartment. She was removed from the building but later died from her injuries, officials said.
“I want to express our deepest condolences to the victim’s family and loved ones following last night’s tragedy,” Haverhill Fire Chief Robert O’Brien said in a statement.
Another resident from a second-floor apartment was evaluated for smoke inhalation but refused treatment and is doing fine, according to Deputy Fire Chief Christopher Link.
Neighbors described a chaotic scene and said they are mourning the loss.
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“It’s sad, very sad. I get nervous when I see fires like that,” neighbor Ann Brady said. "Just a lot of people breaking down windows… stuff like that. Trying to get the person out and stuff. A few minutes later they had a little stretcher.”
“I looked out the window and saw it filled with fire trucks and ambulances,” neighbor Danny Crowley said.
Crowley says the woman who died Wednesday night stayed inside most of the time.
"I cut the grass and she would just stay in… keep to herself,” Crowley said.
Ten residents have been displaced and were assisted Wednesday night by the Red Cross.
"I feel bad for the families that are homeless right now," Brady added.
Responding crews were able to contain the fire to the first-floor apartment of the triple-decker. Firefighters from Lawrence, Methuen, and Salem, New Hampshire, assisted on scene.
Fire officials investigated the blaze and determined it was accidental. The most likely cause of the fire was smoking while home oxygen was in use, which fire officials said can make materials ignite more easily and make fires burn at a faster rate than they would otherwise.
“I also want to remind the community that smoking is the leading cause of fire deaths in Massachusetts, and smoking on home oxygen is especially dangerous because oxygen makes it easier for a fire to start and spread," Chief O'Brien said. "If you or a loved one use home oxygen, please don’t smoke.”
“Three deaths were linked to smoking and home oxygen in Massachusetts last year, triple the number from the year before,” said State Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey. “Any open flame is a fire hazard when oxygen is in use, including matches, lighters, candles, stoves, and fireplaces. It’s important to practice fire safety when there’s medical oxygen in the home, and especially important not to smoke.”
The Department of Fire Services’ "Breathe Easy: Home Oxygen Fire Safety Campaign" provides resources for patients, families, medical professionals, service providers, and first responders, including brochures in Spanish and Portuguese.
Wednesday night's deadly fire was jointly investigated by the Haverhill Fire Department, Haverhill Police Department, State Police Fire & Explosion Investigation Unit assigned to the State Fire Marshal’s office, and State Police assigned to the Essex District Attorney’s office.