Niagara Gazette

January 7, 2014

Fatal 26th Street fire may have been sparked by electrical problem

By Rick Pfeiffer
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — An early an morning blaze on Tuesday claimed the life of a Falls man.

Fire officials had still not identified the male victim on Tuesday night, saying the county coroner’s office was still trying locate the man’s relatives.

The fire was called in around 3:31 a.m., and Falls police were first on the scene at the one-and-a-half story home in the 500 block of 26th Street.

“There was heavy smoke coming from the top floor where the apartment (that was on fire) was located,” Falls Fire Chief Tom Colangelo said. “The officers who were there tried to enter the home, but when they reached the door to the apartment the heat and heavy smoke forced them back out.”

Firefighters were able to break through the door of the apartment and once inside found the one room living space fully engulfed in flames.

“There was heavy fire right inside the door,” Colangelo said, “and the victim was found right in the doorway.”

The man was dead at the scene and Colangelo said an autopsy will be performed to determine the exact cause of death. The chief said the apartment did have a smoke detector.

“Right now, the it’s looking like the cause (of the blaze) may have been electrical,” Colangelo said.

The chief said because the fire was contained to the one-room apartment, the high winds and sub-zero conditions at the time were not a factor in battling the blaze.

However, a fire hydrant directly in front of the home was frozen when fire fighters arrived.

A family living in a first floor apartment at the home was successfully evacuated.

Red Cross volunteers were at the scene and provided emergency assistance to the family. The two adults and a child were provided with temporary shelter in a hotel in Niagara County, according to area Red Cross spokesperson Jay Bonafede. They were also given food supplies and clothing.

“That’s pretty much our standard response,” Bonafede said. “We try to meet their emergency needs for food, clothing and shelter.” He noted that after several days the family is invited to meet with a Red Cross case worker and directed to programs that can help them get back on their feet, including assistance finding a new home and disaster mental health counseling. 

“We have trained mental health volunteers who we make available to the survivors of any disaster if they need that kind of support,” he said.

Lisa Taibi, a disaster specialist from the Niagara Falls office of the Red Cross said she will be doing the followup counseling of the family, and will be working on a recovery plan with them. “I can help them get to where they need to go,” she said.