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Body of 2nd Fireman Found in Mass.

December 8, 1999

WORCESTER, Mass. (AP) _ The body of a second firefighter was pulled today from the ruins of a vacant warehouse that burned down after a homeless couple argued and knocked over a candle, authorities said.

The body identified as James F. Lyons III was removed shortly after midnight this morning, said Lt. Don Courtney, a firefighters’ union officer.

Six firefighters died in the fire that was blamed on the squatters who left their pets behind in the former cold-storage warehouse. Thomas S. Levesque, 37, and Julie S. Barnes, 19, were held today on $1 million bail after pleading innocent to six counts of manslaughter.

The pair had stayed on the second floor of the abandoned warehouse for several months, prosecutors said. They allegedly fled and did not try to report the blaze.

Two firefighters entered the flaming building after hearing reports of squatters inside only to radio for help after becoming lost in thick smoke. Four other firefighters tried to find them, and all six died.

The fire was believed to be the nation’s deadliest for firefighters since 1994, when 14 firefighters perished in a Colorado forest.

A break in the case came Tuesday afternoon when a woman who appeared to be Barnes was recorded on a convenience store videotape telling a clerk that her dog, cats and clothes had been inside the burning building. A man who appears to be Levesque stands nearby.

The tape, broadcast on television, shows the clerk asking Barnes if she and Levesque were the homeless people authorities had been looking for in connection with the fire.

``They think we were in there, but we weren’t in there,″ Barnes says. ``I wasn’t nowhere around when it started.″

Fire Chief Dennis Budd said he could feel only sadness, not anger.

``I feel grief right now and I don’t have any room for that,″ Budd said. ``One more piece of the puzzle has been eliminated.″

Homeless advocates pointed to overflowing shelters and emphasized the dilemmas of street life.

``They can’t panhandle, they can’t loiter, we don’t have enough shelter beds, so when they go into abandoned buildings it’s trespassing,″ said Nicole Witherbee, policy coordinator for the Massachusetts Coalition for the Homeless. ``So where is it they’re supposed to be?″

Firefighters continue to sift through the smoldering rubble. The body of one firefighter was found early Sunday.

Deputy Fire Chief Walter Giard said searchers have also found several pieces of equipment, including a firefighter’s air tank, part of a helmet and a buckle. But Giard said it was possible that some bodies would never be recovered intact.

Levesque’s parents said their son had not lived in their Worcester home for several years, and chose instead to live on the street.

His mother, Margaret Levesque, said he had repeatedly declined suggestions to be treated for a mental illness he has held since birth.

``I’m so sorry for the firemen and their families,″ Mrs. Levesque said. ``If I had six lives to give to them, I would.″

Joan McGuirk, the sister of Joseph T. McGuirk, one of the six firefighters who died, wept as she talked of the two suspects.

``Those people didn’t do the right thing, but by God, they didn’t do it intentionally,″ she said.

President Clinton plans to join thousands of firefighters from around the nation at a Thursday memorial service.

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