Landlord: Poor conditions, intent to condemn house not relevant to fire investigation

Dexter Jackson's house at 110 Bowdoin Street burned down on Jan. 6.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The owner of an Olneyville home that burned down Saturday, leading to the discovery of a woman’s body two days later, claimed deplorable conditions described by city inspectors inside the house did not cause the massive fire.

Dexter Jackson, the landlord at 110 Bowdoin St. who was also living inside the building with his tenants, told Eyewitness News Tuesday that it’s normal to have numerous code violations, and news reports documenting his property’s history of problems are “stupid.”

“You all are just ignorant,” Jackson said in a phone interview. “You don’t understand. Every house has violations. What’s the cause of the fire?”

Investigators have not determined the cause of the fire, which they say started at Jackson’s property and spread to two adjacent homes, both of which were destroyed.

A city building inspector recommended the home be condemned after inspecting it three days before the fire, writing in a report dated Jan. 3 that the home was “a mess.”  Inspector Bill Monaco said the house had no heat and no running water.

“Occupants were running space heaters, numerous propane torches throughout dwelling, debris on every floor including basement, open electrical panel in basement,” Monaco wrote in the report. Photos provided by the Providence Fire Department show the piles of debris, along with tangled extension cords, exposed wiring and multiple space heaters.

The building burned down before the city could condemn it. A woman’s body was pulled from the rubble Monday, identified by family members as Lucy Feliciano. A spokesperson for the Medical Examiner’s office said Tuesday that an autopsy was being performed to determine Feliciano’s cause of death.

“It was sad to know that somebody died in there,” Jackson said, adding that he was inside at the time of the fire and suffered injuries. He said he did not know Feliciano was still inside until after he escaped.

Jackson brushed aside the violations detailed by the code inspector and documented in photos by the Providence Fire Department, asserting that the fire started at the house next door. He also denied some of the claims made in Monaco’s report.

“There was running water, there was heat,” Jackson said. He said the space heaters in the house were only being used in the basement to prevent frozen pipes, and denied the inspector’s assertion that occupants were using space heaters.

“I had an extension cord going to the basement to warm up the pipes,” he said. “Because, you know, it was cold.”

The temperature was 3 degrees when the fire broke out at the heat-less home Saturday morning.

Roland Colpitts, the tenant who complained about the property and triggered the fire department inspection, said he wished the city had acted faster to condemn and evacuate the building after discovering the poor conditions.

“It’s my belief they should have shut the house down right then and there because they were aware how bad the conditions were,” he said.

Public Safety Commissioner Steven Paré said the condemning process has to go through housing court and the landlord has to be given time to fix the problems, unless the house is structurally unsafe.

Jackson objected to Target 12’s reporting on his building’s deplorable conditions, insisting the inspection records should not be subject to public scrutiny unless firefighters determine that his code violations caused the fire.

“You’re being stupid,” Jackson said. He hung up the phone shortly thereafter.