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Exension Cord Blamed in Fire That Killed 10

February 18, 1991

NEW BRITAIN, Conn. (AP) _ A fire that killed 10 people in a crowded tenement was caused by an extension cord connected to a portable heater, investigators said Sunday.

The cord ran under a living room chair that burst into flames when the cord’s insulation melted, Fire Chief Thomas Keough said.

Among the 10 people who perished in Saturday morning’s fire were six children under the age of 15, including an infant. A 17-year-old and three adults also died, Keough said.

As investigators sifted Sunday through the charred rubble of the three- family, stone-framed building, about 400 people held an outdoor Mass nearby in memory of those who died.

Angel Torres, who lived in the apartment on the first floor, said he had repeatedly complained about a lack of heat in his apartment and kept four space heaters - one in each room - going 24 hours a day to keep his family warm.

A spokesman for the Connecticut Natural Gas Co. said meters showed all three apartments were being supplied with gas.

Temperatures dipped to near-zero the morning of the fire. Torres, who helped his family escape, said his 13-year-old nephew was sleeping in the living room and was the first to notice the velour love seat on fire.

″I woke up when I smelled the smoke,″ the nephew, Wilfredo Matias Aviles, told The Hartford Courant. ″I saw the side of the chair on fire.″

All seven people in the first-floor apartment escaped - five adults and two children. The fire raced through the building with astonishing speed, perhaps because the doors to the second- and third-floor apartments were open, creating an updraft, Keough said.

Five people in the second-floor apartment and five in the third-floor apartment perished.

Hector Romero, who lived on the second floor, escaped by jumping out a window, authorities said. Neighbors had to restrain him to keep him from going back into the building to save his family.

Autopsies completed on eight of the victims showed all died of smoke inhalation, Keough said Sunday. None of the names will be released until all the autopsies are completed and the victims are positively identified, probably late Monday, authorities said.

The extension cord wasn’t heavy enough to use with the space heater, which was shaped like an old-fashioned radiator and was filled with oil, Keough said.

″The use of a lighter gauge extension cord in conjunction with the electric heater is the cause of the ignition,″ he said.

The damage was so severe that investigators couldn’t find evidence of smoke detectors, but Keough said investigators had no reason to doubt the landlord’s assertion that he had installed smoke detectors throughout the building.

The owner, John Laposky of Plainville, said the house was renovated four years ago, including improvements to the electrical system.

″I don’t know why the place went up so fast,″ Laposky told The Hartford Courant.

Asked about other tenants, he said only, ″I know they were good people, they took care of the place.′

Torres said that five months ago, Laposky offered to install a used gas heater if Torres picked it up from a nearby location. Torres said he and a friend got the heater but it was never installed.

Laposky’s wife would not comment Saturday on Torres’ account.

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