Two die after failing to flee fire
By Tim Grace,ENTERPRISE STAFF WRITER
BROCKTON — A burning couch wedged in a kitchen doorway fed a fire that killed two people and injured a third Saturday morning.
James Buchanan, 24, of Braintree and Jennifer Ortiz, 23, of Dorchester were guests in the first-floor apartment at 96 Harvard St. when the fire started at about 3:30 a.m.
Firefighters said smoke inhalation probably was the cause of death for both victims.
"It looks like the fire started in a couch in the living room," said Deputy Fire Chief George Phillips. He said a cigarette was most likely the cause of the fire.
The three men tried to move the burning couch out of the house, carrying it from the living room into the kitchen where "it flared up ... and got stuck in the door, trapping one occupant on that side of the couch," Phillips said.
James Boutin, who rented the apartment, was also hurt.
He was being treated in the Brockton Hospital emergency room Saturday evening. Hospital officials would not release his condition.
Phillips said a neighbor smelled smoke and called the Fire Department at 3:37 p.m.
When firefighters arrived, smoke was pouring out of the first-floor windows on the right side of the building.
Boutin and a second man, along with a mother and daughter living on the second floor, had made it out. Buchanan and Ortiz were still trapped inside.
"I saw them carry Jim (Boutin) off on a stretcher," said one neighbor.
The man, who lives across the street, but did not give his name, said he heard "people screaming and ran down" to see smoke pouring out of Boutin's apartment.
Once inside, firefighters found Ortiz "in the living room, partially lying in a closet," Phillips said.
She was rushed to Brockton hospital but died hours later.
Buchanan had already died when firefighters found him on the bathroom floor.
The kitchen exit was the only door out of the apartment. Because it was on the ground floor, the apartment's windows qualified as second exits said Phillips.
"The building did have smoke detectors, alarms were sounding," he said.
"It's very important for people to know, when a fire is discovered in a house, just get out," Phillips said. "Get out and call the fire department."
Bridget Norton Middleton, spokeswoman for the Plymouth County District Attorney's office, said the state fire marshal had investigated and was satisfied the fire, and the deaths that followed, had been accidental.
A man raking glass out of the lawn and pilling up burnt furniture and timbers outside the house Saturday afternoon would not discuss the fire.
The fire did not spread beyond the first-floor apartment.
Phillips did not know how many people had been living in the five-apartment, triple-decker, but said some of the apartments may have been vacant.
Damage to the building was estimated at $75,000. Scorched wiring and melted plumbing left it temporarily uninhabitable.
Hugh Drummond, spokesman for the American Red Cross, said the mother and daughter from the second floor would be put up in a local hotel Saturday night.
The Red Cross had provided the family with some emergency cash for food and clothing.