A check-in with Wakefield Fire Chief Michael Sullivan Monday found that the fire marshal's office believes Sunday morning's fire on Lake Street was accidental and likely electrical in nature.
A three-alarm fire around 7:30 a.m. on Sunday morning drew emergency personnel from neighboring communities and inflicted serious damage on a home thought to date to the late 1800s or early 1900s.
Sullivan also credited the homeowner, Richard Brown, for having recently changed the batteries in the smoke detectors, saying that in this case, that action may have very well saved the homeowner's life. He noted that Brown was up on the third floor at the time the smoke alarms started going off, and by then, the house was already filled with enough smoke to make the stairs difficult. Brown also reportedly stopped at the first floor to make sure that some tenants, a young couple with a child, were on their way out of the building as well.
No residents or firefighters were injured during the incident.
Regarding the structure itself, Sullivan noted that homes from around the 19th Century will fairly typically have balloon frame construction, as did this particular house. The method basically uses a frame consisting of boards that run from the top to the bottom of a structure - and which presents added challenges to firefighters by leaving pockets of open space behind the walls.
A fair number of other homes in the area have balloon frame construction, noted Sullivan. For homeowners concerned about fire safety, he suggested that insulating the outside walls can help lower the risk. Some of these houses may have their own makeshift fire safety precautions, he added. For example, some balloon frame homes may have fire stopping consisting of two by four pieces that are stacked up to fill the wall spaces.
The difficult nature of the fire had personnel out of the building at 8 a.m., according to the fire report. From there, firefighters attacked the blaze from outside of the building and had it out around 10 a.m. The Red Cross was also at the scene to assist the residents of the house.
On Lake Street, another challenge encountered by firefighters on Sunday was the presence of multiple ceilings in some parts of the house, which was apparently the result of various renovations over the decades. One part of the vintage structure also reportedly had a tin-covered ceiling, also popular in homes and business of the era. Sullivan said that for firefighters in that part of the house, it was like opening a can of soup to get at the flames.
"It was kind of a hard, labor intensive fire," said Sullivan, adding that he is not sure at this point whether the structure can be saved - he just notes that it was extensively damaged on Sunday morning. The report cited heavy fire damage to the third floor and roof area, major damage on the second floor around the chimney and rear section, and damage on the first floor closer to the chimney area. There was also reportedly heavy water damage throughout the structure.
Personnel from the North Reading, Lynnfield, Malden, Saugus, Woburn and Melrose fire departments provided assistance and apparatus during Sunday morning's incident.