Fire marshal: Space heater to blame in fatal fire

FALL RIVER, Mass. (WPRI) — A fire that claimed the life of a Fall River woman on Friday started when a space heater overloaded an extension cord and a power strip, the state fire marshal confirmed on Saturday.

The flames broke out at about 4 a.m. Friday inside a third-floor apartment on Globe Street. Responding firefighters found resident Christine Lomas unconscious and got her out of the building.

Lomas, 50, was treated at the scene before being transported to St. Anne’s Hospital, where she died later that day.

Two family members safely evacuated the apartment, according to Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey, while Lomas stayed behind to try and put out the fire with an extinguisher.

Ostroskey said the power strip and extension cord were not rated to carry the power of the space heater.

“It’s important to plug space heaters directly into wall outlets, and to place them three feet away from anything that can catch fire,” Ostroskey said in a statement. “Space heaters need space.”

Learn More: Fire Prevention Guide »
Learn More: Fire Prevention Guide »

If you must use an extension cord, Ostroskey warned to first make sure it’s a heavy-duty one marked with a power rating at least as high as what’s listed on the label of the space heater.

Ostroskey said 133 space heater fires were reported to his office between 2006 and 2015, causing nine deaths, 22 civilian injuries, 31 injuries to firefighters, and an estimated $10.6 million in damage.

According to Ostroskey, 27 percent of those fires were caused when bedding, clothing, magazines, or other combustible materials were too close to the heater while 8 percent were caused when rugs, carpets, or mats were too close.

Click here to learn more from the Keep Warm, Keep Safe winter heating safety campaign.