Officials: Emptying of Ashtray Cause of Total Loss Coffin Avenue House Fire Monday

Haverhill Fire Department Deputy Chief Raymond E. Robinson Jr. surveys the scene at 100 Coffin Ave., Haverhill. (Mike Jarvis photograph for WHAV News.)

Monday’s two-alarm fire at a single-family home on Coffin Avenue was caused by emptying an ashtray into a household trash container, according to Haverhill Fire Chief Robert M. O’Brien and State Fire Marshal Peter Ostroskey.

An investigation by the Haverhill Fire Department, State Police Fire and Explosion Investigation Unit and ATF special agents concluded the fire began after an ashtray was emptied into household trash in a screened-in hot tub room on the ground floor. Combustible materials ignited and the fire spread from this location. The home is a total loss, but no injuries were reported.

“This is a pattern firefighters see too often in Haverhill and all across Massachusetts,” said O’Brien. “Cigarettes and other smoking materials can smolder undetected in an ashtray and ignite other materials when thrown in the trash, out a window or off a porch. If you smoke or have guests who do, be sure to put it out, all the way, every time.”

The chief told WHAV earlier the department received an emergency 9-1-1 call from a resident at about 7:45 a.m., Monday, that reported, what was then believed to be, electrical arcing from an outdoor hot tub. The house was evacuated before firefighters arrived. O’Brien said the homeowner suffered some smoke inhalation, but otherwise no injuries were reported. Two adults and two children were displaced. Crews drafted water from the nearby Merrimack River.

Haverhill firefighters were assisted by mutual aid companies from Georgetown, Groveland, Lawrence, North Andover and Salem, N.H. The Salvation Army and Red Cross also provided aid to displaced residents.

Fire investigators were at the scene throughout the day Monday and returned Tuesday. They conducted interviews, examined the scene, viewed aerial imagery from a Department of Fire Services drone unit and were aided by an excavator that assisted in delayering the debris.

“Smoking materials have caused more than 2,200 structure fires in Massachusetts over the past five years,” said Ostroskey. “They are the leading cause of fatal fires here and nationwide. There’s no truly safe way to smoke, but you can make it a little less dangerous by doing it outside and using a heavy ashtray with water or sand. Never smoke in bed or when you’re drowsy or impaired.”

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