Lenox fire chief releases preliminary report on cause of Curtis fire


LENOX -- As the probe into last Thursday night's arson at the Curtis apartment complex continues at the state level, Fire Chief Daniel Clifford has released a preliminary report on his investigation into the fire that gutted one apartment, caused heavy smoke damage in as many as a dozen more, and displaced all 59 residents of the 54-unit building.

According to the document obtained by The Eagle on Wednesday afternoon, the fire was started by an intentionally lit match that torched the bedding, blankets, sheets and comforters in the apartment's bedroom.

The state fire marshal's office, part of the Department of Fire Services, has limited its public comment to a brief statement last Friday, saying the fire had been deliberately set, the location of the suspect is known and there is no ongoing threat to the public.

Since no one has been charged with the fire, the name of the suspect has not been disclosed by state or local law enforcement authorities, said Jennifer Mieth, public information officer for the Department of Fire Services in Stow.

Meanwhile, Kathleen Callahan, 58, the resident of apartment 209 where the fire started and was contained, remains in stable condition at UMass Medical Center in Worcester, according to hospital officials. She has been transferred out of the intensive care unit.

Callahan was airlifted early last Friday to the facility from Berkshire Medical Center, where she had been taken by ambulance after Lenox EMTs administered CPR to revive her at the scene of the blaze.

At the state-subsidized Curtis, air quality tests administered by a contractor hired by ServiceMaster Clean, the disaster restoration company, have yet to be fully analyzed, prolonging the delay for a phased-in return of apartment residents.

But Clifford said Wednesday the initial results are "pretty good," so fourth-floor residents will be permitted to retrieve items from their apartments on Thursday, April 18, between noon and 4 p.m. On Friday, third-floor residents may be able to do so, subject to the progress of the cleanup, Clifford said.

He urged residents to check in first with Lenox Housing Authority Director Martha Joyner at her office in the Curtis lobby, including those who have not yet signed permission slips allowing ServiceMaster to enter their units for cleanup.

A timetable for the gradual return of apartment residents is expected to be established sometime next week, Clifford said, following an evaluation of the building's heating, ventilation and air conditioning system scheduled for Monday.

The town is conducting a clothing drive for the 59 displaced residents, 48 of whom were evacuated at the time of the fire while the rest were elsewhere. The collection continues at the Town Hall auditorium, 6 Walker St., on Thursday, April 18, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.

In addition, cash donations may be brought in or mailed to the Lenox Housing Authority, 6 Main St., Lenox, MA 01240, or to the Lenox National Bank, 7 Main St., P.O. Box 1632, Lenox, MA 01240. Checks should be designated "Curtis Relief Fund." Gift cards to area markets can be dropped off at the housing authority office in the Curtis lobby.

The Berkshire chapter of the American Red Cross continues assisting residents -- 52 people have been provided with immediate emergency needs, including food, clothing, emotional support and referrals to other community agencies. According to Kate Leene, Berkshire chapter director, the agency will continue to assist the residents in navigating the recovery process as long as needed, despite what she described as a "depleted local disaster response fund."

Preloaded debit cards have been provided for the purchase of clothes and other personal needs. "We're asking for everyone's continued donations and support as we work to help these folks get back on their feet," Leene stated.

Information: www.redcross.org.

To contact Clarence Fanto:
cfanto@yahoo.com or (413) 637-2551.
On Twitter: @BE_cfanto.


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