FALL RIVER, Mass. (WPRI) — After a house fire proved deadly over the weekend in Fall River, the family of the man who died said he may have been trying to light a cigarette just before the fire erupted.
The niece of Joseph Mello, 61, said he was a very humble man. Mello died Sunday in the fire on the third floor of the triple decker on Eastern Avenue, according to the Bristol County DA’s office. The fire started around 6 p.m.
The Fall River Fire Department’s District Chief James Mellen said Mello wasn’t able to make it out of the building to safety.
Monday, the home was encased in ice and the third floor of the building was charred and exposed after fire crews had battled the flames in extremely cold conditions.
“Nothing’s meant to work in this temperature,” Dist. Chief Mellen had said Sunday. At least one firefighter fractured his ankle after slipping and falling on ice.
Acting District Chief David Levesque said air tanks can malfunction and water can freeze with extremely cold temperatures, slowing down firefighters’ efforts to tackle a fire.
“All problems are multiplied when we get into cold weather,” he said. “One of the lines that we brought into the building, a chunk of ice made it through the line, and it got into the nozzle and basically made that firefighting line ineffective.”
The victim’s niece, Christina Mello, said Monday her family owned the triple decker; she lives on the first floor with her mother. She said she called 911 before the fire broke out because she was concerned her uncle seemed groggy or unsteady.
“He didn’t look well, he was slurring,” she explained.
Mello also said she saw her uncle with lighter fluid, and that he had been trying to light a cigarette before the fire broke out.
“I saw flames coming out of his door and I’m yelling ‘Joe, Joe, Uncle Joe!’ in hysterics because I knew he was sitting in that chair,” she said.
Officials have not yet released the exact cause of the fire, which remains under investigation.
Mello said she’s grateful for the firefighters who worked so hard to try and save her uncle.
“They were excellent. The firefighters were absolutely amazing,” she said.
Mello said her uncle had immigrated to the United States from Portugal, and previously worked at Quaker Fabrics in the city before it closed in 2007.
“He’ll be very missed, and it’s just hard,” Mello said. “I’ve never ever experienced anything like this is my entire life.”
According to the Bristol County District Attorney’s office, the fire does not appear to be suspicious.