Fire investigation continues; building lacked modern fire prevention

  • Easthampton firefighters prepare Ladder One to douse a still-smoldering area of an apartment building at 106 North East Street in Holyoke on Monday, January 2, 2017, where a fire on New Year's Day claimed the lives of three people.

Wednesday, January 04, 2017

HOLYOKE — Authorities on Tuesday had no word as to the cause of a New Year’s Day fire that claimed three lives in the Flats neighborhood of Holyoke.

Hampden County District Attorney Anthony D. Gulluni’s office did announce Tuesday, however, that Trevor R. Wadleigh, 34, of Easthampton, was the third victim in the fire. His remains were recovered Monday afternoon.

In addition to Wadleigh, officials earlier identified Maria Cartagena, 48, and Jorge Munoz, 55, both of Holyoke, as the two others who lost their lives.

A news release from Gulluni’s office Tuesday afternoon said the investigation into the fire is ongoing. It is being led by the Holyoke police and fire departments, the state fire marshal and the Hampden County district attorney’s office.

Gulluni said at a Monday news conference that he did not have reason to believe that the fire was intentionally set.

Fire prevention

Meanwhile, at the scene of the blaze at 106 North East St., Holyoke Building Commissioner Damian Cote spoke Tuesday about what may have caused the fast-moving blaze to render the building uninhabitable.

The building lacked a sprinkler system, Cote said, which he said would “absolutely” have had an impact.

“It always would make a difference as long as it’s installed correctly and operates correctly,” Cote said. “You know, but it’s only one piece of a puzzle.”

Among the other measures that could have minimized damage are a fire alarm that could have alerted the Holyoke Fire Department directly when the fire was detected, and walls and ceilings designed to contain the fire.

“What we’ve found in our inspection was that a lot of that fire-stopping and draft-stopping was not in place,” Cote said. “So it means that the fire was able to travel much faster.”

In regard to the alarm system for notifying the fire department directly, “had that been in place the fire department would have been here much earlier,” Cote said.

Holyoke Mayor Alex B. Morse said Monday morning that “several” minutes passed between when the fire ignited and when the fire department was alerted. But when they were called, they arrived on scene in a minute, he said.

On Tuesday, the state firefighters union and Holyoke Firefighters Local 1693 issued a statement arguing that budget cuts to the fire department had impeded the department’s response to the fire.

But Morse said Monday the department had been “effectively staffed” at the time of the fire, adding that the Easthampton, Chicopee and South Hadley departments had provided mutual aid that day.

Cote said he doesn’t believe the owner, Irshad Sideeka, or the management company, Naviah Investments LLC, was in violation of any codes or state law.

“As the laws are written right now, he wasn’t, the management company wasn’t in violation of anything,” Cote said.

While sprinkler systems are required now on new construction of similar buildings, Cote said “in no way has the law ever required somebody to retrofit in a fire suppression system to a building that pre-exists the law.”

According to city records, Sideeka purchased the five-story building, dating to 1905, in 2011. Major renovations can also trigger required investments in more modern fire security measures, but Cote said the building had not seen a major renovation since 1974.

In 1974, installing a sprinkler system “might have been an option but it wasn’t a requirement,” Cote said.

Sideeka owns several buildings in Holyoke. All except one were constructed between 1890 and 1910, according to city records.

On Tuesday, the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency coordinated along with the city of Holyoke and the American Red Cross an event at the Holyoke War Veterans Memorial to help lend assistance to the 27 families and about 49 people who were displaced by the fire.

In addition to donors filling the Dr. Marcella R. Kelly School gymnasium full of home goods, an online fundraising effort launched by city officials had raised more than $44,000 from 696 donors as of 9 p.m. Tuesday.

Contact Jack Suntrup at jsuntrup@gazettenet.com.